Monthly Archives: March 2007

Link Backlog’s rating system for doctoral programs isn’t quite the Philosophical Gourmet, but it’s more information than potential applicant might have had before. If soeone were to bootstrap a Theological Gourmet, though, I’d be behind it all the way.

Heather pointed to this essay which touches on “deafness as culture” issues that pertain to both Beautiful Theology and Seabury’s Gospel Mission course.

As so very often, Dorothea has a keen eye and clear talk about gender politics. This exemplifies what the leadership tries energetically to do in the We Know guild, in Warcraft. Many people, including some officers, resist Dorothea’s approach; as she says, the playing field tilts strongly toward discourse that treats women as the objects of particular, sexual, [I’m scrabbling for a word here, “diminutory” — small-making — not quite the same as “derogatory”] rhetoric. A number of us intervene in guild chat regularly to quash anti-gay and misogynistic talk, but the effect tends more to be “keeping the problem from overflowing,” not yet to the point of “engendering a healthy communicative ecology.” And that’s not just “a healthy communicative ecology for women and lesbigay guildies” — it’s unhealthy for straight men to operate in a discursive world that derogates everyone else. Thank you, Dorothea.

Tax Day. Will I be able to complete our taxes in one convulsive day of computer activity?

Mark Goodacre (whose work on Q scholarship I hyped in New Testament Intro last week) speaks up on behalf of Wikipedia in his blog today; I think he’s quite right. Wikipedia isn’t perfect; nothing is; it’s useful; my bigger problem with students, research, and the Net involves students who won’t look at any sources that aren’t online (looking around in a library is too inconvenient).

Federal and NC taxes complete and filed for AKMA and Margaret; Illinois taxes must be mailed in, but they’re complete also.

Josiah’s taxes completed and filed.

Shortest Distance

In an online interaction today, somebody thanked me for picking up a cue she offered; I had responded to her straight line with exactly the [witty, clever] a propos punch line she had hoped for.

That brought to my consciousness that over the years, I had imbibed the idea that passing up a straight line was about as deplorable a gaffe as one could imagine. The social act of extending a straight line to someone involves offering them the opportunity to deliver the funny part of repartee, without any obvious credit going to the straight man. We do it, though, for the love of a punch line, for the satisfaction of comedy well crafted, of participating in funnier conversation than would be possible if each of us were out only for his or her own glory. It’s a funny kind of solidarity, but I cherish it.

What I Didn’t Say

A number of people offered appreciative notice of my observations on the death threats against Kathy Sierra, what they were and weren’t; that’s a relief, since I have no interest in blaming victims, and the whole dreadful situation has made most of the people it has touched into victims of one sort or another (and I don’t want to get into establishing a scale of suffering, either; the fallout affected different people to different degrees in different ways, and few of us, if any, know enough about more than one or two of the people involved to say anything responsible about who suffered more than whom).

Among people who noticed what I wrote, some have scolded me for not issuing a public denunciation of — well, different people want me to denounce different specifics, or generalities, but some folks wanted me on the record against X, Y, or Z.

That irks me for a variety of reasons. First, I am not sure how someone could read what I wrote without recognizing that I explicitly, firmly, denounced death threats, ominous sexual aggression against women, and I directed pretty stern words calling into question the actions (direct and indirect) of some of my friends. Second, it presumes that whatever I have to say relative to my friends and their actions has to be said for the entire cosmos to read — and that contradicts both my sense of pastoral ministry and my common sense of what friendship means.

To give you an idea of how clearly the pertinent people understand my perspective on things like “outrageous” japery, I not only wasn’t invited to participate in the sites in question, I didn’t even know they existed till well after they were established and I happened to follow some links.

Third, and this gets back to a point I made back in the earlier post, some of the criticism implies a much fuller knowledge of “what actually happened” and “what AKMA’s involved in” than I see any warrant for. It’s OK if people don’t trust me not to snicker behind my hand; it would disappoint me, but presumably I haven’t earned their trust, and whimpering won’t enhance my standing with such a person. That’s different, though, from saying that “AKMA should do this thing I stipulate about that.” Feel free to criticize me (for reasons you enumerate), but please don’t tell me what I have to do. It’s at least possible you don’t know everything about what I’m up to, or why.

I venture the next point hesitantly, because I don’t want to take anything away from the points Dave Winer gets right in supporting people with whom he has long-standing feuds. But in his posting today, Dave said, “I’ve asked other people who do, like David Weinberger and AKMA how they can support that — I asked when I was a target of their attacks. All I got was silence.” I need to note, perhaps defensively, that in my case that’s flat out untrue. Dave asked me, at BloggerCon I, how I could remain friends with people who attack other friends of mine. Now Dave may not have been satisfied with what I said, but we conducted the conversation in front of a roomful of people, including Dan Bricklin, David Weinberger, Ross Rader, Joey DeVilla, Boris (don’t remember Boris’s last name), I think Halley (I’m not invited to see her blog any more, but I assume it’s still there) Suitt was there for that session, Enoch Choi, a bunch of other people who might have been there but my memory may be blurring them with others (I’ll happily add or subtract names as others correct me), and the prodigious Heath Row who transcribed it (Thank you, David, for saving the link for me). And besides, what person who knows me can imagine that when someone asks me a complicated question, I’d be silent?

So, on friendship: I construe friendship as involving me in other people’s lives on terms that neither of us gets to determine on our own. Friendship involves yielding some degree of one’s self-determination, in the name of participating in a shared life that exceeds the sum of its individual parts. Sometimes friendships lessen us, sometimes friendships ennoble us; often they alternate between those; sometimes we’re graced with friendships that overwhelmingly bless us with stronger, lovelier, more generous relationships. When my friendships involve me in conflicts among different friends, friends who fall out with one another, I try to deal with those conflicts on the basis of what has been strong and true in each of the divergent relationships; I refuse to be jobbed into picking one side over against another. As a result, some interlocutors have grounds to regard me as morally compromised, and to make such accusations public. I don’t like that, it’s not what I work toward in friendship, but it’s out of my control. I don’t get to determine what others will do any more than they get to determine what I’ll do. But it’s not my way to write people off, nor to require them to engage the world on my terms, nor to stifle my understanding of what’s good, and admirable, and morally binding, just to please my friends. If they don’t like who I am and what I stand for, then they probably don’t want to be friends of mine. And if they can take having a friend with my characteristics, OK.

(By the way — I don’t by any means always live up to the identity I sketch above, but it’s the point of reference toward which I’m aiming.)

A Different Honor

The other day after work, I ran to Jewel to pick up some supplies, and one of the grocery-cart guys hailed me, “Hello, Rabbi!” (He was probably misled by my black wool hat.) This was a new one for me, and we were passing each other so we didn’t really have time for a discussion of the differences between a Hasid and an Anglo-Catholic. I said, “Hi, thanks!” If I’ve given offense by not disclaiming strongly enough, I herewith apologize.

Last year, Sarah’s mom reported to me that Sarah had asked her, “Is Father Adam Amish?” since, after all, she usually sees me dressed in black and white.

So I guess I’m a one-man interfaith, ecumenical movement — and the joke’s on me, because I’m one of the least likely theologians for that identity.
Continue reading A Different Honor

Midday Homily

What with classes and papers and painstaking endeavors to say something true in the fog of rhetorical war, I had a difficult time squeezing out a sermon for today’s service. Though I am ordinarily quite susceptible to distraction, the past couple of days rendered me entirely distracted – especially because I felt as though the homily involved my saying some relatively Big Important things about myself and my faith, which I would rather. . . hey, look at today’s Dilbert!

I noticed after I sat down that the sermon placed “me” at its epicenter rather more firmly than I approve. On the whole, “my stuff” shouldn’t be the subject of a sermon, since a sermon should point to Scripture, not to the preacher. I’ve stuck with some qualifying expressions, though, because I think that in this case, I wouldn’t have been able to talk about “people’s faith” in the abstract; the rhetoric works, or doesn’t, to the extent that it invokes a concrete person with actual concerns and commitments. While I may well be self-deceived at this point, it seemed (intuitively, in prospect; deliberately, in retrospect) that the sermon required a specific subject, and that I couldn’t project it onto anybody else.

So, apart from some critical reflection on first person homilizing, and a relative lack of time to get well enough acquainted with the words I’d chosen that I could handle pacing and emphasis as well as I’d have wished, it went OK.
Continue reading Midday Homily

Anonymity, Interpellation, Truth, Ignorance, and the Stakes

I’m glad I waited a while to post about Kathy Sierra’s unfortunate situation; a vast sea of people expressed their solidarity with Kathy, Shelley sized up the situation with the wisdom and perspective that typify her, and Frank, Jeneane, and Chris have responded, and Allan seems to have closed up shop. The mysterious “Joe” has left comments here and there. I had glanced at the two sites in question, what, about a week ago, saw nothing interesting and several things that irked me, and moved on. I didn’t notice any death threats, or any close approximations thereof, but I wasn’t looking for them.

To begin with the obvious, no one should have to cope with death threats , whether private ones in anonymous emails (about the height of creepiness) or public — and, granted the popular culture’s predilection for highlighting (and selling) the exhilarating voyeurism of women-in-jeopardy, I see ample reason for people to exercise special care to steer clear of sending messages that intensify any woman’s already-heightened sense of being the object of someone’s pathology. It’s wrong, and it’s dumb. It’s not near the fine line between stupid and clever. It crossed that line, stomped on it, scuffed it out, and kept going (and not in the “clever” direction).

After one establishes that nobody ought to threaten people’s lives, a premise I whole-heartedly endorse, people seem to have run in a great many other directions with this incident. Some commenters have interposed themselves among Kathy’s very many admirers to say, in essence, “If you don’t like it, don’t go on the internet.” I suppose that might work for some people — “If you don’t want us to brutalize you, don’t come to our neighborhood, or if you come, make sure you’ve got us out-gunned” — but it falls considerably short of the kind of ideal community life, short even of “minimally functional community life” in my book. Kathy shouldn’t have to choose between writing a blog with death threats and vanishing from Blogaria.

Some of Kathy’s defenders seemed a little hysterical, though. A great many people asserted their certainty that they knew what kind of person would participate in the MeanKids and BobsYerUncle sites, and why. That sort of presumption pushes my buttons, and not simply because I know the people Kathy named in connection with her death threats; I persistently push my students to articulate “How would you know that? What evidence do you have for that claims?” because I observe so many people taking precipitous action on the basis of conclusions to which they’ve jumped far in advance of any evidence. I see it in students’ and scholars’ biblical interpretation, where readers just know what must have happened; I see it in church conflict, where people just know what others really mean, and why they profess the claims they do; I see it in politics, where prominent figures commit vast resources and numerous human lives to projects on the basis of unsubstantiated intuitions. What I don’t see is any sign that this presumed knowledge makes the world a better place.

So in response to very real pathological threats (explicit in the emails), Kathy sensibly explained in a very public way (a) why she wasn’t going to Etech and (b) whom she held responsible. I take it that this is one of the positive uses of the Net: to make a visible, public record of the situation, so that any possible assailant would know that Kathy and Bert, law enforcement authorities, and pretty much the whole Net-reading world, knew about what was going on. Lots of light on the obscure goings-on.

That transition from anonymous threats in email to calling-out specific people (who — so far as I know — have no direct connection with the murderous threat) changes the picture. Granted, without question, that Kathy shouldn’t have to put up with death threats, I’m uneasy about her targeting others for whom there isn’t a demonstrable connection to the specific death threats. There’s a difference between tasteless, hurtful tripe (on one hand) and credible death threats (on the other); although the two may be congruent, I need to know more about the connection before I assent to connecting these particular dots.

In this way, anonymity cuts more directions than one: It enables a mysterious assailant to terrify Kathy, but it also provides the grounds for Kathy suggesting that Frank, Chris, Jeneane, and Allan are complicit with a would-be murderer. That’s a pretty serious allegation; she has interpellated them as co-conspirators. That wouldn’t fit with what I otherwise know of them, but more important, I don’t see evidence for that charge. Again, crudity that’s congruent with death threats may be worth condemning, but it’s not the same as participating in those threats. And since very few people on the Net are as anonymous as they think they are, we can expect that there is light to be shed on precisely who was threatening Kathy.

Compare [reports about] the sites in question with other websites, those that cultivate calumnious derogation of political figures, or that use tropes of sexual violence to the purpose of satire. I can propose distinctions that would categorize some as vile and dangerous, others as puerile and hurtful, others as scathing but just; so can you, and our assessments are virtually guaranteed to differ. In such perilous circumstances, distinctions and the reasoning that grounds them make all the difference in the world. Accusations that efface distinctions spread the damage around, but they don’t remedy anything, and often enough they take a bad scene and make it a lot worse.

All these dimensions show, yet again, that whatever else is true, there’s no magic barrier that separates the Net from Real Life. Whether in flesh or in pixels, we’re continuously taking part in a venture with the highest stakes, in a medium with an exceptionally long memory and no guarantees of anonymity. What we do, we do in public even if we hold a domino in front of our features — the slandering, threatening, stalking, bullying and other gestures we make online had better be gestures whose consequences we stand by.

Two Points

First, Margaret pointed me to these photos of a recently-discovered owl species (“Strange Owl” — I love it! Xenoglaux, literally “strange owl” in Greek); with our public affinity for matters glauxological, and my family’s history of involvement with owls, I couldn’t omit mention of it here.

Plate I. Screech Owl

Second, I’m preaching Wednesday at Seabury’s chapel service; the texts are Daniel 3:14-28 (omitting 21-23), Canticle 13 from the BCP, and John 8:31-42. I belabor the topic of John and Judaism enough outside of chapel that I think I’ll concentrate my attention on John 8:32 (“You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free”), but I’m not sure yet.

Why We Have Children

Pippa decided that this morning, we would take advantage of the fine weather and bicycle to church. Yesterday she pumped up the tires and made sure we had enough locks and helmets; this morning, we rolled down to St. Luke’s in the early morning fog, in time for her to rehearse with the choir and for me to sip coffee and read, and to discover how many joints and muscles were not accustomed to the posture and exercise of biking.

Then, after church, the weather was significantly clearer, which made the ambient temperature a great deal warmer.

Si’s bicycle had a flat tire, we discovered early on, so he drove; I asked him to take my blazer and briefcase for the ride back home. I’ll get fitter every week, but this could be a lo-o-o-o-ong summer.

It’s The Polity

For a long time, Episcopal Church “conservatives” have argued that the conflict we now face goes back a lot further than the debate over sexuality — and I think the recent meeting of the House of Bishops supports that point, though in ways that ought to be uncomfortable for pretty much everyone.

“Conservatives” (whom I’ll hereafter call “reasserters,” in keeping with efforts to avoid characterizations that jeopardize the clarity and charity of the arguments) point to a long series of decisions in which the Episcopal Church has addressed itself to modernity by (adapting Alasdair MacIntyre’s words) giving skeptics less and less in which to disbelieve. The Bishop Pike trial in 1966 stands as a useful emblem of this — without detailed summary and evaluation, I’ll stipulate that his brother bishops’ decision that repudiating the Trinity did not disqualify Pike from the exercise of the office of bishop signals an ecclesiastical willingness to allow a breadth of theological conviction that seriously compromises the grounds on which the church might arrive at coherent conclusions on any theological point — except, of course, the formal criterion of whether the conclusion was reached by appropriate process.

(Much as I admire Pike’s vigorous support for the civil rights movement, for women and lesbians and gays in the church, his deliberate immersion in the culture of the day, I must distinguish those qualities from what Grace Cathedral diplomatically describes as his “attention-seeking personality” and his patently heterodox theology. One of Pike’s malignant bequests to the church is the sense that “liberal” policies carry an inevitable link to anti-traditional theology, a bequest that funds the popularity of each generation’s sensational disbelievers among responsible “liberals,” whom I’ll hereafter refer to as “reappraisers” for the reasons given above.)

Returning to the thread of my harangue, and speeding past many intriguing scenic overlooks on my way to our topic for the day: It begins to sound as though the Windsor Report meant to convey to the Episcopal Church the message that whatever the standing of our policy on human sexuality, our decision-making process and our governance had fallen out of whack.

This is concordant with some of what the reappraisers have been saying: It doesn’t matter if all the motions, bills, and votes were above-board if they entail contradicting essential elements of Christian faith and life (and no, we may not go back and vote on what constitutes an essential element; our idolatry of voting contributes to these problems).

On the other hand, if the Episcopal Church’s polity is so problematic, why did the rest of the Anglican Communion choose this particular moment to call it to our attention? It does no good to say, “Well, we meant to” or “We tried, but you weren’t listening”; if it’s the polity itself at fault, that polity has been pretty much in place for an awfully long time. It doesn’t work right to chastise us for defective polity only when we make decisions that others don’t like. If our compromised polity justifies cutting us off, then our polity has been cut-off-able for decades at least, and I’m suspicious of lofty statements that call us down just now.

What might be wrong with our polity? It looks to me as though the Episcopal Church (on both “sides”) tends to regard bishops as though they were state governors — “our elected officials.” That neglects the two aspects of a bishop’s vocation that look most important to me: the bishop’s role as a teacher, and the bishop’s role as the point where the local church (the diocese) interacts with the church catholic. On that basis, churches in Iran really do have a stake in whom the Diocese of Chicago elects as bishop; a bishop who can’t function as a liaison (either because the world refuses them, or their home diocese does) can’t fulfill a constitutive aspect of the bishop’s role. The Episcopal Church tacitly recognizes this through its assent process, and (ironically) just exercised the prerogative to not accept a bishop’s election on the grounds that not enough dioceses felt they could rely on that candidate to remain within the Episcopal Church.* Though we do not ask every diocese around the globe to consent to each episcopal election, the principle is the same: A bishop belongs both to the diocese and to the church catholic, and both need to accept the bishop in order to maintain sound polity.

So when the House of Bishops asserts that “the meaning of the Preamble to the Constitution of The Episcopal Church is determined solely by the General Convention of The Episcopal Church,” or that we have no intention of leaving the Anglican Communion but that our polity does not permit arrangements such as the Primates requested, they’re begging the question. It’s the polity itself that has come into focus as the problem. The Primates want a polity in which our bishops stand more fully accountable to the world church, because (on this interpretation) that’s part of their job description; and the Episcopal Church says, “You can’t exclude us because that’s not the way we do things.” The US position looks an awful lot like an assimilation of ecclesiastical roles to local civic models: the U.S. bishops should lobby on behalf of the citizens they represent to bring home favorable policies (and if the governors of Utah and Mississippi, even the President of the U.S., don’t like the governor of Iowa, it’s tough luck because the Iowans voted for her). That’s not my understanding of how the members of the Body of Christ work together to build up and strengthen the whole.

As usual, I’m not fully convinced by either side of the argument. On formal polity questions, I’m more sympathetic with the Primates; I believe in bishops and their important role as teachers and mediators between local and global churches. On particular theological conclusions, I’m more sympathetic with the U.S. church, though I arrive at that sympathy by a reasoning that more closely resembles the reasoning of the Primates. I continue to support the full inclusion of my neighbors in the leadership and sacramental life of a catholic communion. How that plays out, I can’t imagine right now. I’m not, however, overjoyed at the U.S. bishops’ bold firmness; I’m saddened at the mutual misunderstanding that our present situation bespeaks, and frustrated by partisan rhetoric all around.

* Much more to say about the Lawrence non-election, but I hope that South Carolina will renominate and re-elect him, and that the Standing Committees that had muffed their consents will execute them correctly. Maybe a few of the dioceses that had refused consent before will even make a consistent, sensible decision to reverse their previous refusal.

Danny the Second

Many of my wonderful online friends — Micah, Holly, Johanna, e — helpfully pointed me to one or another candidate for the version of Danny Duck that Margaret and I shared with our progeny. Alas, most of them are simply trading on the goodwill associated with the Danny Duck name, and are not the echt Danny (the books, not my wonderful friends). Our Danny is not “the” Duck, nor doth he “take a dive.” It’s not Danny’s Duck. He’s not the star of a book that floats in the shape of a duck, though it may have been a plasticky bath book, I don’t recall exactly. I reproduced its contents verbatim; that’s the one we’re looking for. “Imitations Disappoint,” as the Sapolio ad says.