Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Lies of Justin Welby; or, rather "Alternative Facts"

Hey, friends in the Church of England:  it's Crusty here in the USA.  Normally, COD tries not to get involved in the internal workings of other member churches of the Anglican Communion, in part because he's spent most of his adult life listening to people who know little to nothing about how The Episcopal Church actually functions and works lecture us.  (BTW Crusty has also called out the shocking ignorance of many in the Episcopal Church as to how other provinces of the Communion function, to be sure this goes both ways.)

However, gven what happened at the General Synod of the Church of England, thought I might offer you all a little advice, given our own experiences.  But before we do, let's recap for readers in Crustyland:

The House of Bishops of the Church of England engaged in some extensive three-year "listening" sessions around issues of same sex marriage, and produced a report to be sent to its General Synod
ACNS photo of bishops presenting report to Synod.

(which, like the Council of Trent, always seems to be in session.  Crusty can barely deal with General Convention once every three years, he has no idea how the C of E handles this multiple times a year).  The General Synod did not pass a "take note" resolution in the clergy order, which, more or less, means the Synod chose not to receive the report.  This has caused no small amount of kerfuffle, with multiple knickers being twisted, and many at sixes and sevens at things going so pear shaped at the refusal to table this motion (Crusty promises to stop the English idioms here).  The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have issued a letter outlining a way forward, which will include *more* listening with bishops, establishment of a Pastoral Oversight Group to work with dioceses on what is permissible under current guidelines, and proposing a debate at the next Synod of human sexuality.

Take it from your Episcopal Church colleagues -- don't be fooled, friends.  The current Archbishop has shown a consistent pattern of weaponizing listening processes to create extra-juridical and exrta-canonical disciplinary procedures accountable to no one, and his willingness to outright obfuscate and lie.  Let's recap:

1)  In January 2016, the Archbishop hosted what was billed as an informal gathering of primates, not an official primates meeting.  It came up with a series of "consequences", voluntarily accepted by The Episcopal Church.  Shortly afterwards, the Archbishop began consistently referring to this as a Primates Meeting, and that it had established a disciplinary process to be used in the future for any provinces which would change their marriage canons.  What began as an informal gathering where the Episcopal Church accepted consequences is now a Primates Meeting that has set up a process that can be used to threaten other provinces.

2)  Archbishop Justin violated the territorial integrity of the Scottish Episcopal Church (The Church of England has no parishes or presence on the Scottish side of the borer) by pushing through an ecumenical agreement with the Church of Scotland without much consultation or involvement from the Scottish Episcopal Church, prompting some revealing responses by the Scottish Episcopal Church's Primus (seriously, click on the link, the Primus throw some serious church shade).  The response from the Church of England has been, in addition to showing a lack of collegiality and consultation, largely to ignore the fact that the Church of England committed a boundary crossing violation (hey, remember the Windsor Report?).

3)  The Archbishop also presented his own alternative facts with regard to the Anglican Consultative
All negative blogs are FAKE blogs! SAD!
Council meeting in April  The ACC rejected consideration of a resolution which would have received the full report of the January, 2016 primates gathering, adopting instead a resolution naming the report and stating it had received it.  After the ACC adjourned, the Archbishop released his own statement, where he had the unbelievable gall to state, unequivocably: "By receiving my report, which incorporated the Primates’ Communique, the ACC accepted these consequences entirely." This is at worst an outright lie to deceive or at best a disingenuous obfuscation.

4)  Not content with this, the Anglican Communion New Service went on to state that no Episcopalians voted on any matters related to doctrine or polity at ACC-16, as part of the ACC's implementation of the sanctions against the Episcopal Church..   The Episcopal Church members
responded by stating they voted on all matters before the ACC, which forced the ACNS/Ministry of Truth change the lie to spin: "This article was updated on 2 February to make clear that no formal votes were held on issues of doctrine and polity at ACC-16. None was necessary because all such matters were agreed by consensus." Crusty feels the need to note that consensus is a form of voting.  Archbishop Humpty Dumpty lives!

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'

'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master — that's all.'

So I hate to break it to you, Church of England friends -- this isn't over.  The Archbishop has shown his willingness to use listening processes as Trojan horses for substituting heavy-handed discipline, to subvert structures and supplant it with extra-canonical forms of governance, and simply to ignore, lie, and obfuscate any objections in the process of creating his alternative realities.  The Anglican Communion Covenant was not
Who had the bigger installation crowd, Rowan or Justin? Ask ACNS.
approved according to the polity of the Church of England; he simply tried to get the prohibition on same sex marriage through his Listening Process.  Had the Synod voted to note the report, one could bet it would have been spun as endorsement of all its implications by the Church of England.

So don't be fooled by the change of tone and the promises in the Archbishops' letter.  Whatever process he is setting up, he'll subvert it, just as he has done with the Episcopal Church, the Scottish Episcopal Church, and the Anglican Consultative Council, to push through what he wants, and then bend reality and fact to support those actions.  In his recent address to General Synod, Archbishop Justin gave some warnings about President Trump and the rise of right wing movements in Europe.  Yet Justin has shown a willingness to ignore democratic structures and bend reality to shape his own intentions.  Despite his condemnation of Trump, Justin should look himself in the mirror and see some disturbing parallels.  But please, for God's sake, let's hope Justin doesn't start tweeting at 5 o'clock in the morning.  That's about the only thing that can make this worse.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Presume Nothing: Closing Our With an AXIOS!

When first ordained, DPC was placed in charge of a small, inner-city congregation of no more than 30 people on a Sunday. The church had been without an incumbent for about 3 years prior to DPC’s arrival, and had been making do with supply priests. Within a week of my arrival, DPC’s phone rang. A long-time parishioner had died, and the funeral needed to be planned. Cue a sit down with the family, working through the readings with them, asking whether or not they wanted a celebration of the Holy Eucharist as part of the liturgy, and what they needed at the reception. The process was a
That many funerals? Who knew DPC was chaplain to Spinal Tap Drummers?
whirlwind, but the funeral and the following reception turned out lovely. Two days later, the phone rang again. Yet another funeral. About three weeks after that, there was a third. The funerals came fast and heavy - DPC presided or preached at something like 13 funerals in DPC’s first year of ordained ministry. Evidently there must have been something about being the new incumbent in a parish that sends ripples through space-time, sending up some sort of deathly bat-signal from the rectory of the parish, much to the delight of the local funeral director. Thirteen funerals, in a parish with an ASA of 30. It was intense.

As tired as DPC may have been of presiding at funerals that year, DPC learned quickly the importance of solid planning, one-on-one discussion with the family and friends of the deceased, and a sensitivity to the unique contours of each individual service. But, without fail, being attentive, and loving, and kind in the planning of a burial may have been the single greatest act of Pastoral Care DPC performed that year. Planning and celebrating a funeral well is one of the greatest challenges, and the greatest gifts, of pastoral ministry. GBEC seems to know this.

Set 6: Christian Worship
Open Resources
Scenario: The inner-city church where you serve has a regular population of homeless people nearby. Several of them drop in for warmth or shelter and sometimes attend worship, especially the service that precedes the regular weekday soup kitchen. Several are known to some of the congregation, at least in a “hello in passing” relationship. One of these homeless folks, a woman in her early 30s called Josie, dies suddenly. Among her effects are a well-thumbed Book of Common Prayer and Bible. A member of her family will cover expenses and has asked you to make arrangements for her funeral.

The events after her death should include the Burial of the Dead service itself (burial office alone vs. burial office with Eucharist, and who will give a homily), plus at least one of these: vigil, reception of the body, graveside committal, or a reception following the liturgy.

In the first half of your answer, give a cogent explanation for your choices of liturgies, rites and events. How would you arrive at various decisions about your choices, and whom might you invite to help?

In the second half of your answer, provide an outline/chart/or service bulletin for the Burial Office listing your choices for liturgical texts, scriptural readings, and musical elements, if any. Give references for specific readings, hymns, service music, etc., with the rationale for your choices. Give these by page number, hymnal number, or specific scriptural citation rather than quoting the texts themselves. In addition to the Book of Common Prayer, you may use the Enriching Our Worship series and any of the authorized hymnals.

During the year of 13 funerals, about half of the deceased were people with a “hello in passing” relationship to DPC’s parish. GBEC describes a very real scenario of pastoral ministry: someone with some level of connection to the church, albeit it not a well-defined one, passes away, and a family member, knowing “she’s an Episcopalian,” calls up the closest church to prepare for a funeral. So the work turns to organizing and planning the service and caring for the family. And the church being the church - we do just that.

GBEC has structured this question quite well. They require each examinee to deal with the questions that happen in the earliest conversations about a church burial - Eucharist or no? Who preaches? Is there going to be any kind of family member or friend speaking, and how will it be handled? Burial or cremation? Is there a reception, and if so, what is its function? What are the right readings and hymns to use? The question realistically expects that examinees’ liturgical plans conform to the rubrics of The Book of Common Prayer and other General Convention-authorized resources, while still expecting that the choices be pastorally sensitive to the contours of Josie’s untimely death. GBEC rightly realizes that responding fully to this death - or any death  - will likely also include planning additional offerings around the burial liturgy, such as a reception, wake, or graveside service; they duly ask examinees to plan one of these offerings as well.

Perhaps best of all, GBEC doesn’t presume a right answer, save for following the rubrics, and exhibiting proper pastoral sensitivity. They seem to know what DPC has learned in conducting many
Like Sherlock, GBEC presumes nothing.
funerals: Some funerals just don’t need Eucharist. Some really do. Some funerals should be in Rite I language. Some really shouldn’t. Some families will be emotionally able to participate in being lectors and intercessors. Some won’t. Some family members may be capable of giving a meaningful reflection on the life of the deceased in the context of the resurrection of Jesus. Some won’t. And the right answer in one funeral plan won’t necessarily be the right answer in another.
And this questions gets that, and doesn’t fight that reality.

While the scenario presented, as designed, feels a bit imagery and feelings-heavy and designed to pull at the heartstrings of the examinee (“they found among her effects the well-thumbed pages of Josie’s BCP and bible”), the requested information and process that follows the scenario is what happens - or rather, what should happen - for every funeral. And everyone being ordained should be able to plan and execute a meaningful burial liturgy that follows the rubrics and exhibits pastoral sensitivity to the needs of those will attend it.

Axios, GBEC. This questions manages to be imminently practical, and manages not to be overly restrictive. It allows the examinee to use their own creativity and imagination, within the limits of our BCP and EOW liturgies, to meet the pastoral needs of a given situation. And examinees, file the plans you write for this answer away. You may find yourself needing them someday. 

Well, friends, it's time for Crusty and DPC to ride off into the sunset on this year's GOE blogging.  Thanks for joining me for the ride, and special thanks to Dread Pirate Crusty for ably filling in this year.

And despite what you may think, and what Crusty has been accused of by some people, COD is not opposed to the GOEs.  Crusty loves the fact the Episcopal Church has always had a competency-based system, ever since the Course of Ecclesiastical Studies introduced by William White.  There's never been a single standard, unlike, say, the PCUSA or ELCA or Roman Catholic Church where degrees are normative, even written into polity in some cases.  With a competency based system, we have an inherit flexibility -- should we ever choose fully to embrace it -- in how we train persons for the ordained ministry. 

At times DPC has had some hard words for how these questions have been posed.  Crusty doesn't expect DPC to apologize.  People who have little agency in this system -- the students taking this exam -- are the ones whose processes towards ordination hang in the balance.  COD doesn't think students should be the ones holding the bag for poor questions.  One of the reasons Crusty started blogging the GOEs was because taking the GOEs was one of the loneliest and dis-empowering things he ever had to go through: get question, walk home, write question, hand in question; repeat.  Spend evenings nervously wondering that you were the only person that wasn't sure about your answer.  Then get an envelope in the mail and everyone was afraid to share their results, either ashamed they didn't do well or guilty they did do well.  Crusty swore that if he could one day make the GOEs a less opaque, anxiety-inducing, dehumanizing and lonely experience, he would do it.  And yea, it came to pass.

As for saying some hard things; well, too bad, sunshine.  Crusty has worked for over 15 years full-time in the church, and drafted documents and resolutions and concordats and proposals, and has had people say worse things than anything written here.  Crusty's been told he doesn't understand Anglicanism, that's he's a raging liberal, that he's a brain dead conservative, that "he has sold the apostolic heritage of Anglicanism for a mess of Protestant lentils," and so on.  Crusty's always been willing to be held accountable for what he has put before the church, and expects nothing less from others.

So be good, people.    Remember to stay grounded in prayer, Christian discipleship is hard and the only way to make it is to develop and cultivate a life of prayer.  Exercise regularly, it's the only free and 100% effective way to avoid numerous health problems. And have at least one minor vice to show the world you're human.

Glory to God, whose power, working in us, can do more than we can ask or imagine; Glory to God from generation to generation in the church, and in Christ Jesus forever and ever. 

Theology: Bring Back the Coffee Hour Questions!!

DPC’s nephew (henceforth DPCN) is going on four years old. When DPCN comes to visit DPC, a repetitive phrase inevitably comes up when answering his questions: “But why?” It’s a simple narrative:

DPCN:                  Can we go get something from the bakery?
DPC:                     Not right now. Perhaps we should go to the park instead, or play with Playmobil?
DPCN:                  But why?
DPC:                     We just ate, so it would be a bit too soon, especially since you want to eat later.
DPCN:                  But why is it too soon?
DPC:                     Because your tummy isn’t big enough to take all the food!
(DPC notes that all evidence points to this being unlikely. But. We don’t need a four year old chock full of more sugar.)
DPCN:                   Why isn’t it big enough?
DPC:                      Because you’re young!
DPCN:                   But I’m growing! Why isn’t it big enough?
DPC:                      (Gives Up, Goes to Bakery)

While in seminary, Dread Pirate Crusty was once warned by a mentor, “You will be asked lots of quick questions that actually deserve dissertation-length explorations and answers. And you won’t have a dissertation to answer in.” Indeed DPC’s mentor was correct. In parish ministry, DPC has gotten plenty of these questions - often ones that can rival DPCN’s questions for sheer “unanswerability.”

“Can God make a rock so big that God can’t lift it?”
“Could Adolf Hitler be saved and end up in heaven, even though he’s bad?”
Or, as Homer asked Flanders...

“Will Gandhi go to hell, even though he was a good man?”
“Why to natural disasters happen to good people?”  

These are simple questions with profound theological implications. In some form or another, these quick, one-off questions - seemingly always involving soteriology (the theology of salvation) or theodicy (defending the justice and righteousness of God) - always tend to come up, invariably, when DPC has a cup off coffee in hand, is stuffing DPC’s face with coffee-hour food, and the person only has about a minute to get their answer before they need to shuttle off with their kids to soccer practice. And, unlike DPCN, the questioners are generally adults that look for some logical continuity. Big questions - short answers. It happens all the time in parish ministry. In their Theology question, GBEC has decided to channel the questions that DPCN will invariably ask his clergy when he gets older:

In the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, Eucharistic Prayers A, B, C, and D in Rite II all contain the phrase “This is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” In Enriching Our Worship 1, Eucharistic Prayers 1 and 2 contain the phrase “This is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is poured out for you and for all for the forgiveness of sins.”
The different words, “many” and “all,” have a bearing upon the theological concept of universal salvation. In an essay of about 1,000 words, compare and contrast understandings of universal salvation and Christian particularism. Include one biblical reference and one Christian theologian that address the concept of universal salvation.
In concluding the answer, address how an understanding of either universal salvation or Christian particularism relates to an increasingly non-churched and religiously pluralistic society.

DPC, quite literally, has been asked about this exact issue, by DPC’s parishioners. It is a question that will come up in ministry. It’s one that a dissertation could be written on, but that length of an exploration is an answer that parishioners have no interest in reading. Big questions, short answers - and in parish ministry, you’re gonna have to come up with answers.

So GBEC is asking examinees to answer a question they will answer in parish ministry. The question is clear, concise, and, can avoid the “academic exploration” trap that GBEC can often fall into (I’m looking squarely at you, 2011 Theology question on the applicability of theosis to the doctrine of ordained ministry.)

For DPC, an ideal GOE question in History, Theology, or Ethics is one that (1) is realistically will come up in day-to-day ministry (a coffee-hour theology question, for instance), (2) could, if one wanted, be
When Crusty took his GOEs, we wrote coffee hour questions in Blue Books.
worthy of a book-length answer because of its implications, (it has academic substance, and is not fluff) but (3) can reasonably be condensed into a short essay that’s the rough equivalent of a coffee-hour response without missing necessary parts of the content necessary to give a full answer.

(Editor's note from actual Crusty Old Dean:  GOEs used to do just that, ask a series of "coffee hour" questions which required people to think up short, quick responses to the kind of questions you get asked.  Closed book.)

Sometimes, GBEC misses the mark - for example, as it did in last year’s History Question, asked examinees to examine two issues with depth - the religious and political roots of the  English Civil War and Anglican Communion Debates over Human Sexuality - but asked examinees to give a 500-word treatment of each topic - a length that couldn’t allow a historically defensible examination of the topic at hand, when each could merit a dissertation of its own.

But other times, GBEC hits this mark square on the nose - and they did that in this question. While exploring understandings of universal salvation and Christian particularism could easily spawn a dissertation apiece, a short, cogent, defensible summation of each can be given in a paragraph - about the time you have to answer a parishioner at coffee hour. It probes a major field of systematic theology - soteriology - but does by using a question that can and will come up in the examinee’s everyday ministry.

DPC has a quibble with the question. But it is minor. The question doesn’t leave as much room to watch the examinees develop their own explanation - but points them to cite an existing theologian. The GOEs become truly useful when they are not simply tests to see how well students can regurgitate facts, but when they show how they *think* theologically and develop a theological argument, not just how well they can cite a theologian. The most boring sermons are the ones that endlessly cite favorite writers. So I wish the question asked them to cite the Bible alone while developing their own theology a bit more on their own.

But the quibble is, as DPC said, minor. GBEC has, all in all, created a solid question, that can be fully answered within the outlined parameters. DPC likes its applicability and practical dimension, and would recommend it to a friend. So DPC is pleased to offer an Axios! to this year’s theology question.

Theory and Practice of Ministry: It Gets Real.

Set 4: The Practice of Ministry
Open Resources

A mass shooting has just occurred in your town. None of the members of your congregation was directly affected, but they are deeply shaken by it and other murders that have become prevalent in the United States and elsewhere. You are the only parish priest in a congregation of about 90 worshippers on a Sunday.

The answer should be approximately 1,000 words.
First, briefly identify appropriate theological considerations that have a bearing upon your response to such events.
Second, write an overview of your pastoral response that displays the interrelationship of theology and the practice of ministry. Your overview should:
Note the unique role of the Church, as an organization grounded in Christian faith, in responding to such tragedies.
Identify the groups or constituencies in your congregation with whom you will speak and what you will say to them, e.g., lay leaders who work with children.
Show awareness of the congregation’s relationship to the surrounding community. Include the wider social context or situation associated with such an event and its aftermath.
Note: A mass murder can occur in a variety of settings such as a post office, school, nightclub, work place, church, or many others. You are free to fictionalize the scenario if it will help you, but remember that the unique role of the Church in society is not dependent on the specific setting of this tragedy. Be sure to keep the focus on what the question asks.

There are few constants in American life.  One is death, DPC supposes.  Another is taxes.  Yet another, in this 21st century world, is gun violence. 

When DPC was in seminary, a mass shooting at a large college occurred on a dour, rainy day in April.  That afternoon, DPC walked into Liturgics, and the professor said, 

“I’m sorry to do this to you, but I am going to ask you to pretend that you are the rector of a church in that town.  For the rest of class, we are going to talk about what you would do today. Because this is what actual ministry is.  Even on the days when you’re grieving and shocked yourself, you have to have a response.  So, I am sorry.  But today, we need to talk about what yours would be.”  

Though there is a 1,000 word limit on the question.
In the years following, DPC has been grateful, again and again, for that class, as the specter of gun violence continues to loom large over the American landscape.  And so, DPC is pretty impressed that this question emerges from GBEC.  It is a very real situation; it is well-nigh inescapable, and it catches too many clergy flat footed when it happens.  This question asks you to formulate a broad-based response, incorporating solid Christian theology, and all the necessary stakeholders in the
church.  It’s a good question.

That’ll do, GBEC. That’ll do.

However, DPC must quibble with a few points here.  (Quibbling is both a blessing and a curse; it is the superpower of the Dread Pirate Crusty!)
Spidey and DPC totes talk about this when we hang out.

First off, DPC calls BS on the idea that no one in your church was affected by the shooting.  DPC has some side-eye for that notion.  Communities are intertwined in the most random of ways, and even in large cities, the reach of Episcopalians is broad and deep.  Someone always knows someone's brother’s friend’s cousin, or went to school with that one guy, or just “hey, I drove past that movie theater all the time.”  Part of what makes these acts of violence so terrifying is that they strike at the normal fabric of our lives, and affect all of us.  Even if no one in the church died in the violence, that does not mean no one was affected.  

Secondly, this is another instance where context matters a great deal. Is this church in a conservative area, where hunting culture and gun culture is prevalent?  Is it in deep blue suburbia, where everyone has the notion that ‘violence doesn’t happen here’?  Is it an inner-city church, where violence is expected, and thus ignored, by the wider world?  This matters, because the way you would go about addressing a massacre in small-town Montana is very different from how you would address it in Southside Chicago. The framework is different, the language is different. 

This is especially true given a situation like gun violence.  The danger in addressing this situation is twofold--on the one hand, you could spiritualize the crap out of it.  You could spend a lot of time talking about the need for more prayer, and for peace in our hearts, and send thoughts and prayers to everyone until Jesus comes back. 

On the other hand, you could dive headlong into a purely political response--advocating an immediate repeal of the Second Amendment, decrying the easy availability of weapons, and blaming decades of inaction at the federal level and an overfunded gun lobby.  (Also, actually, you could advocate for more weapons in more places.  It’d be harder, but hey.  DPC has seen people do it.)

Neither response, on their own, is a good one.  The purely spiritual response avoids the elephant in the room named “This Keeps Happening” and the purely political response avoids the gorilla in the room named “What About Jesus?”.  (The room is crowded, is the point.) As a responsible pastor, you have to balance the two; and context determines how much of each you use.  What language will you use to talk about gun culture in your very conservative town?  What language will you use to argue for Christ’s sovereignty with your liberal parish that is about to march on City Hall? 

Context is everything. 

So while DPC applauds GBEC for this question, there is a piece missing.  Thus, this question is awarded a Meh Plus. 

Ethics: WTF, Good Life?

DPC: Set 3

You may have been wondering where the usual crustiness had gone to, dear readers. You may have been worrying in the backs of your minds if Dread Pirate Crusty was the victim of a sophomore slump.

Worry no longer, friends. THE ETHICS QUESTION HAS ARRIVED.

Set 3: Christian Ethics and Moral Theology
Open Resources
Background Information
In October 2014, University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Ezekiel Emanuel published an article in the Atlantic Monthly headlined “Why I hope to die at 75.” In this article, he indicated what he identified as being his “views for a good life.” Emanuel argued that death is a loss, but equally, living too long is a loss -- one that “renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.”
Writing at the age of 59, he projected that at 75 his life would be complete, so his preference would be to die. In the article he makes clear that he is opposed to euthanasia and assisted suicide, and anticipates that his demise would come from the refusal of all medical treatment after that age.
Taking into account the background information provided above and the qualifications stated below, write a 1,000-word essay based in the Christian moral tradition that:
describes from a Christian perspective what constitutes a “good life,” and
articulates how such Christian ethical reasoning addresses the perceived and experienced losses that aging entails.
Answer the question – which is about the “good life” and how that understanding informs our perspective on aging. You are not expected to read Emanuel’s article, or provide a summary of any of its content. Since the background information is a sufficient springboard for these issues, do not quote from, summarize or paraphrase any part of Emanuel’s article.
Do not dwell on or elaborate upon the nature of the losses that may accompany aging, or upon a pastoral response to them. Following Emanuel’s lead, this question focuses on how we respond ethically to the perceived or experienced losses that aging might entail.
You may refer to other resources, but you may only quote from the Book of Common Prayer and the Bible.

Where to begin? Where to begin? DPC has sailed many a sea, and swabbed many a deck. Never has DPC wanted to eviscerate something as thoroughly as this question.

For starters, let us give credit where credit is due. It is possible that there was, at one time, a sliver of a
Don't hold back, DPC.  It's not healthy.
germ of a decent idea buried somewhere in this question. A mitochondria of a decent thought, if you will. The ethics around end-of-life care are pressing matters, and will only become more pressing as the Baby Boomer generation continues to age and die (YES, THIS WILL ACTUALLY HAPPEN. YOU WILL ALL HAVE TO EVENTUALLY RELEASE YOUR DEATH GRIP ON THIS MORTAL COIL AND THOSE INSTITUTIONS YOU RAN INTO THE GROUND.)

But DPC digresses.

However--and this is where the wheels come off the wagon--that’s not what the question is actually about. The question is about “the good life”--based on some Atlantic article which you are neither supposed to read, nor quote from. The question specifically forbids the test taker from addressing either the pastoral concerns of aging (a real thing!) or the pros and cons of assisted suicide (also a very real thing!) or even how concerns around physical and mental aging intersect with ableism and how these concerns might come off to people with chronic illnesses and disabilities (Also a real thing! Ever complained to a person with progressive MS about how hard it is that you now have to take a daily medication for blood pressure? Yeah. That’s what this question wants you to do. It’s that tone deaf.)

Basically, GBEC would like you to ignore several abiding ethical quandaries you will face in your ministry as a priest and instead focus on one they made up, that only exists in the fevered land of
Hey, be fair.  Slate is grounded in reality.  This is more like
Internet hot-takes. The GBEC would like you to kindly write a article for them.

In other words, once again, that lovely mitochondria that seemed so promising has pulled a Sporos and F*****G REFUSED TO DEEPEN, RUINING THE WHOLE DAMN MULTIVERSE INSIDE CHARLES WALLACE MURRAY. DAMMIT YOU LITTLE FURRY CREATURE. THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS.

DPC digresses yet again.
Here’s the thing--unless you make a habit of hanging out with a klatch of very drunk and/or very nerdy grad students, you aren’t going to have a lot of conversations about what the Christian definition of “the good life” is. And if that is a habit you wish to indulge in, be forewarned that the answers will probably go something like this:
---The good life is to sip Coronas on a tropical beach while surrounded by stolen jewels, listening to
Just wait for next year's followup question.
Jimmy Buffet on repeat!
--The good life is a promising new sitcom on NBC from the creators of Parks and Rec, about the afterlife and the effects of karma, featuring a delightful performance from Kristen Bell!
--The good life is to crush your enemies, to see them driven before you and to hear the lamentations of their women!

Figuring out what “the good life” consists of is a pointless, and dare DPC say it, a self-indulgent exercise. Even if you did arrive at a Christian ethical standard for what “the good life” is, how, exactly, are you going to achieve it? And are you just going to up and off yourself once you can no longer have this good life? Because this question really doesn’t seem to take into account any sort of communal ethic at all. And what’s even worse, it comes quite close to suggesting that this idea of ‘good life’ is predicated on some standard of physical and mental ability, which disqualifies the chronically ill and the disabled. This is some freaky Me-Before-You territory right here.
But we cannot answer that part of the question, according to the qualifications! You cannot even address the real issues inherent in whatever a good life is! ALL WE ARE ALLOWED TO DO IS MINDLESSLY SPECULATE WHILE THIS SPOROS-QUESTION WREAKS HAVOC.

DPC needs a moment to calm the burning rage.


As you have probably discerned, DPC cares not for this question. It took a burning ethical issue and
Crowdsourcing:  Who should be cast as the Sporos in the movie version?
perverted it. It sets up a situation wherein an aging and depressed parishioner approaches you, the priest, with their sadness and loss, and you respond to their very real grief with detached philosophizing about what really is a ‘good life’. That’s insensitive and dismissive AT BEST. It’s ministerial malpractice and spiritual abuse at worst.

No. Nope. Knock it off, Sporos. Quit playing around and deepen already.

DPC awards this a WTF, with a side of Burn It With Fire.  

Church History: Save Ferris!

Oh, history. History, history, history. It’s the question that Dread Pirate Crusty loves to hate, as a quick look at DPC’s 2016 GOE Question Evisceration…. Er, review… will show. Last year GBEC asked test takers to write a historically defensible summation in about 500 words on the English Civil War, and the accompanying changes in Anglicanism at the time. Fun topic, historically intriguing, great for a doctoral dissertation, a stinking pile of you-know-what for a GOE examinee to write
Not all tigers are fierce.  Wait, what is Snagglepuss?
within the confines of a word limit and 3.5 hours. Dread Pirate Crusty awaited the history question this year with bated breath… and sharpened knives. The tiger was ready to pounce. Here it comes… Can you feel it? Time to feast…

Christian doctrines are often not formally articulated until challenged during times of stress, both civil and ecclesiastical.

Part A (about 700 words)
Choose one of the following documents. Identify an important Christian doctrine articulated in it, and explain the circumstances in Church and society at the time that resulted in the articulation of that doctrine.
The Nicene Creed (325; revised 381)
The Augsburg Confession (1530)
The Thirty-Nine Articles (1563)
Pastor aeternus of Vatican I (1870)
The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral (1888)

Part B (about 300 words)
Explain how the chosen document and its implications are still important and possibly controversial today, especially in times of stress in the interaction between Christianity and civil society.

So Dread Pirate Crusty is bitterly disappointed. The knives are back into the drawer after reading the question. GBEC has a solid core question here, one that I can’t take much argument with. (Fear not, dear reader, DPC will have plenty of peccadillos on which to prognosticate.)

Church doctrine has always been in a unique relationship with the world around it - both civil and ecclesiastical. And as GBEC’s prompt notes, times of conflict are generally the points where doctrinal development accelerates. When everyone agrees with the status quo, there’s no reason to anathematize anybody, develop lengthy treatises and articulations defending theological thought, nobody to persuade. But when there’s conflict, suddenly, the need to articulate and define becomes far more present. (Interestingly, this phenomenon plays out not only in history, but in biology as well. Evolution tends to accelerate under stress, and slow down in times of plenty. It’s a phenomenon that crosses disciplines.)

GBEC has narrowed in on a repeating Church History phenomenon - and, especially in this day and age where the church’s relationship with itself and the world is rapidly evolving - one that is also superbly relevant. As that great historian, Ferris Bueller, once said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you
Dr Bueller hard at work on his dissertation.
don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.” Dr. Bueller is correct, and GBEC has studied in his class. As things move quickly, so do the theological developments that support them. Blink, and you could miss it.

The question examinees to use one of five source documents, and explain how this phenomenon presents itself in that document’s time and place. Solid core. But DPC finds the choices of documents… intriguing.

Let’s be honest: if DPC were a gambler, DPC would put money on the bet that 80%+ of the test takers will write on the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed is an easy one to include in this list, and in writing a response, it’s easy to sketch out the ecclesiastical conflicts, since going line-by-line through the creed points to the series of Christological disputes that gave rise to the text. The Edict of Milan, by which Constantine legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire in 313, led to a rapid proliferation of doctrinal disputes. Within 67 years, under the leadership of Theodosius, Nicene Christianity was established as the preferred the state religion of Rome. The first articulation of what we now call the “Nicene Creed” was then drafted in 325 at the Council of Nicaea; the Council of Constantinople polished the Creed to its present form in 381. You can’t talk about the creeds without talking about both theological developments, and the civil society of the day. It’s a great working document.

The two reformation sources - The 39 Articles of Religion and the Augsburg Confession - are probably even easier documents with which to respond to both civil and ecclesiastical turmoil. In the case of The 39 Articles, the English Reformation and Elizabethan Settlement are textbook examples of the interweaving of political and religious concerns. The Reformation under Henry took on a particular shape due to power politics between Henry VIII, Charles V, and Rome. It is easy to trace the interweaving of civil and ecclesiastical concerns straight through the reigns of Edward VI (with the swing toward Continental Protestantism), Mary I (with the attempted Restoration of Roman Catholicism), and Elizabeth (in the Elizabethan Settlement). Indeed, after Elizabeth, those threads continue to develop during the reigns (and depositions) of the Stuart monarchs.

The Augsburg Confession was forged in the crucible of the changing of the politics of the Holy Roman Empire in the face of a Turkish invasion of Europe in the 16th century along with continued religious unrest in the Holy Roman Empire. Phillipp Melanchthon viewed the document as the basis of any potential reconciliation of Protestant reformers in Germany with Rome; but without the heavy hand of politics in the Holy Roman Empire under Charles V, it likely wouldn’t have been created.
Schmalkaldic would be a Scrabble mic drop.
And, of course, a direct line can be drawn from the drafting of the Augsburg Confession to the later formation of the military alliance that would be come the Schmalkaldic League. Each allows the examinee to link doctrinal development with civil turmoil. These are good sources.

But DPC most confess to being stumped, however, to the inclusion of the Vatican I document Pastor aeternus, which laid out the doctrine of papal infallibility. The First Vatican Council was indeed a confluence of civil and religious changes - most notably the rise of political liberalism in the 19th century, and the continuing decline of the secular power and authority of to the Roman Church and to the Papacy. DPC doesn’t deny that examinees should be taught about the landmark changes that occur in Europe in the 19th Century. DPC doesn’t deny that, being well informed about the Revolutions of 1848, examinees should then be able to draw a link between Vatican I - with its doubling down on the authority to be accorded to the pontiff and the magisterium. These things should be doable. But alas, DPC recalls DPC’s own seminary history classes, in which we spoke not a whiff of European Politics and after The Episcopal Church became its own entity. We certainly didn’t discuss Vatican I. This, to be sure, isn’t GBEC’s problem; it’s a problem of our seminary curricula and local formation programs. DPC lauds GBEC’s inclusion of non-Anglican sources. After all, we’re talking about Church History, not Anglican History. But Vatican I, while being important - especially to Roman Catholic and Old Catholic thought - may not be where GBEC should want to draw its sourcing for this question.

If we are looking for a Roman Catholic doctrinal document in response to changes in both the civil and ecclesiastical order, nothing screams for inclusion louder than the Second Vatican Council. John XXIII famously convoked the council to “open the windows and let in some fresh air” - for the Church to respond and develop in concert with, and not solely opposed to, the modern world. Vatican II had a profound impact across Christianity, not only within the Roman Church. Lumen gentium recognized, for the first time, that elements of sanctification and truth could exist outside of Catholic Church. Sacrosanctum concilium gave institutional imprimatur to the liturgical movement, sparking liturgical reform not only in the Roman Church, but brought it into conversation with broader movements.  DPC would have loved to have seen GBEC ask students to engage with the Second Vatican Council, rather than the First. Its impact across all of Christianity, quite arguably, was far greater than the First Vatican Council’s. So why not include this as an option?

Perhaps the desire to touch on both ecumenical impact is the reason for the inclusion of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. Beginning with William Reed Huntington’s The Church Idea, his thoughts were on the basis for “home reunion” with Rome and Orthodoxy; in time, they were adopted by the House of Bishops as the basis of ecumenism in the Episcopal Church. But in a time at which the British Empire at its height, it is unsurprising that its influence spread to the 1888 Lambeth Conference, where it provided a meaningful basis not only for the relationship of Anglicanism to the broader church, but also, of Anglicans to each other. It could be argued the value of the Quadrilateral, much like that of a fine wine, increased with time, especially in the period of decolonization. But much like the other documents, its civil context threads together with its doctrinal formulations.

Back to the bones: this is a solid question at its core. It lands for DPC right on the verge between being deemed Axios!, while having a few qualities that make it worthy of Meh-dom. DPC is, quite obviously, less than enamored with the inclusion of Vatican I’s Pastor aeternus, seemingly at the expense of a Vatican II document, which, quite arguably, would have had more impact. That choice - because of the sheer weight of the ecumenical historical impact of Vatican II - does drive this to a tipping point. The question gets a Meh rating, but with a secondary citation for “most improved” when considering last year’s train wreck of a History question. GBEC, if you’re reading, you’re on the right track. But don’t overthink it too much.

It Begins: Question 1, Scripture: It's In the Way That You Use It

[Welcome, friends, at last to Crusty's Blogging of the GOEs.  Let me explain -- no, there is too much, let me sum up -- Crusty is now on the General Board of Examining Chaplains, and, unlike some people, is taking all necessary steps not only to avoid conflict of interest, but any perceived conflict of interest.  So I have recruited a substitute, the Dread Pirate Crusty, to offer some thoughts.  Crusty has not provided DPC with the questions, and has had no interactions with DPC other than posting comments here.  The delay in posting has been to make sure everyone has finished taking the examination, since an increasing number of people talk the GOE outside of the one-week window in early January. So:  ENJOY.]

Greetings, brave sailors on the high seas of knowledge!  Dread Pirate Crusty is excited to again be voyaging with you in these perilous times.  As stated earlier, these commentaries have been embargoed, with the aim of respecting those taking the test out of the usual 5 day sequence.  All commentary will be released at the same time for your binge-reading pleasure.  DPC is excited to embrace the Netflix model of blogging.

Onto Question 1!

Set 1: The Holy Scriptures
Open Resources

The Bible is a cornerstone of the Book of Common Prayer, grounding its theology and, in turn, The Episcopal Church's identity.In an essay of about 1,000 words use your knowledge of Holy Scriptures to discuss the role the Bible plays in Eucharistic Prayer B. Within your essay, identify at least five scriptural quotations or references in this Eucharistic Prayer. Include quotations or references from both the Old and New Testaments. Choose one of these references or quotations and provide an exegesis that discusses its theological, literary, and historical context.

Looky here, seminarians, it’s a slow pitch down the middle of the plate to start you off.

If the news that the Book of Common Prayer is grounded in Scripture is shocking to you as a test taker, then perhaps you have been asleep for lo, these two and a half years of seminary.  DPC  
There are also many fine old advances in caffeine.
encourages you to explore new advances in coffee.

The BCP is commonly referred to as the “readers digest version" of the Bible--an orgiastic amalgamation of biblical allusions and quotations.  You could, if you wanted, randomly stab your pen into Eucharistic Prayer B, then run a Google search on that sentence, and answer the question that way. 

That is how easy this question is.

Remarkably, that is also DPC’s problem with it. 

Not only is the Bible a cornerstone for Anglican clergy, but UNDERSTANDING the Bible is also a cornerstone.  (It’s the other cornerstone.  Because there are 4 cornerstones.  Think of it like a house or something.)

So it’s not enough to be able to pick out scriptural quotes in the BCP.  Anyone should be able to do.   As a priest, you should be able to also put those quotes in context, to unpack them and describe the stories they weave, and relate them to the struggles your people currently face.
I got ya four cornerstones right here, pal.

For example:  the sanctus, found in all eucharistic prayers, includes quotations from Isaiah 6 and Matthew 21.  It is fun to have that information at your fingertips.  You may feel important and smart.  Knowing that the Isaiah quote is also used during Orthodox and Conservative Jewish worship, and that it is customary to bow during this description of God’s holiness might even impact your own piety.  

But unless you can figure out how Isaiah’s insistence on God’s glory encompassing everything is related to Matthew’s heralding of the entrance of Christ into Jerusalem, then your job is incomplete.  And THEN, you need to figure out what message the conflation of these two references sends to your congregation in 2017.  In this current context, what would a person sitting in the pew gather from those four lines?  What do those four lines say about environmental stewardship?  About the rise in antisemitism?  About the immanence and transcendence of God?

It’s those second set of questions that truly matter; much more than just noticing the presence of quotes.  You can read Dickens and notice scripture quotes.  It’s a fun game for car trips if you want to amuse tiny children.  But people who want to be priests need to do more.  This is not a trivia game. 

A quick review of our scoring system:  

Axios! ("Worthy!" and shouted at ordinations in the Eastern Orthodox Churches) = good question.
Meh = an OK question, neither good nor bad.
WTF = if you don't know what this means, google it.  But since you're an ecclesially minded person or you wouldn't be here, you probably say this at least once a day.

Out of the gate, Question 1:    A solid Meh.