Between 1:30 and 3:15 this afternoon, a series of different web surfers came to this site after Goodle-searching for the phrase “luminous poison,” the trick murder implement in the 1950 film noir classic D.O.A. I alluded to this plot device last year, so I can explain why this page shows up in the Google results; what I can’t explain is, Why would a dozen or more people suddenly feel moved to look up “luminous poison” in the middle of Saturday afternoon?

Things To Come

Several things will happen within the next eighteen months or so. (So far, I’m on safe ground.)

One seems increasingly likely: the Episcopal Church USA will find a polite and careful way of declining to accede to the Windsor Report. It will take this as a matter of justice, of the development of doctrine, of the Holy Spirit doing a new thing, of resistance to bullying. It seems moderately likely that the rest of the Anglican Communion will determine that the ECUSA has not adequately attended to its requests (with some resistance from parts of the UK, and I don’t know about Canada well enough to say). The decision-makers involved will decide that ECUSA has decided to “walk apart.”

Some body of US Anglicans will receive formal recognition from the remainder of the Anglican Communion. This presumably would not constitute a simple replacement of ECUSA, since I doubt anyone wants to annihilate the bridges that might in a beautiful world lead to a rapid reconciliation — but it will be clear that the on-going work of the Anglican Communion in the USA is being done by an agency other than ECUSA.

Some catholic-minded Anglicans may be blessed with Benedict XVI’s permission to join the Church of Rome while retaining Anglican patterns of life and worship (corrected, of course, to reflect the magisterium’s teaching). The extent of this inclusion could vary from simple encouraging the Anglican Use of liturgical forms, to establishing an Anglican Rite Roman Catholic Church, with an infrastructure that reflects typically Anglican ecclesiastical order (again, aligned toward Roman authority).

Of course, all of this may be rendered moot; ECUSA may meet the expectations of the Primates and Consultative Council and Lambeth bishops. The signs of the times, however, seem to be pointing otherwise; a significant proportion of voices I hear express a sense of possibly being well shut of communion partners who don’t share ECUSA’s current sensibilities.

Hence the prospect of my uneasy dilemma: although I take very seriously my vow of obedience to my bishop, yet I don’t understand my ministry as deriving its sacramental basis apart from a lived connection with an arguably catholic communion — and if ECUSA opts out of communion with other Anglican bodies, I’m in a fix. Here are some alternatives, none ideal.

  • I could just sit tight, with my bishop and diocese, in what will have become de facto another Protestant denomination. In that instance, I’d be dissenting from the notion that such a situation suffices for the sacramental life of the church and its people, even though I agreed with the policies and practices of this group at the surface level.
  • I could try to align myself with whatever supplementary or replacement body maintains its connection with the Anglican Communion. That would be awkward, since I’d be dissenting from the presenting basis of that group’s claim more truly to be sustaining the catholic faith in the Anglican tradition. Formally speaking, though, it would be no different from being a dissenting Episcopalian of ten or a dozen years ago; I could always have joined a Protestant denomination that recognized the theological legitimacy of same-sex relationships, but that would have entailed repudiating my allegiance to the church catholic. At the time, I was unwilling so to do, and the fact that the church(es) changes around me doesn’t necessarily alter my sense of priorities and obligations.
  • I could seek a canonical relationship with a non-ECUSA, non-American-substitute diocese. I know some English clergy and bishops who might conceivably be willing to enlist me as serving under them. (I don’t know about the canons at this point, but since plenty of clergy serve in situtations where they aren’t canonically resident, it seems possible so long as I’m not rector of a parish).(Or I could move to Britain, or somewhere else.) In that circumstance, I’d be dissenting from the overall theological position of the Anglican Communion, but doing so from within an unambiguously Anglican situation (again, as the pre-recent ECUSA).
  • I could look into the Anglican-Use/Rite Roman Catholic body. In that case, I’d be removing myself from the distinctly Anglican tradition altogether, which would make me feel queasy and upset my wife horribly (don’t worry, Margaret, I’m just talking through the alternatives), but would with a stroke resolve tons of problems about doctrine and polity. In that case, I’d be dissenting from a broad array of magisterial teachings disciplinary rubrics, but I’d be doing so in a context in which the ground rules for obedience and dissent were at least quite clear.

Whatever I do, the bonds of solidarity that weave my life with those of the saints to whom I’m answerable will be impaired; some will be cut off altogether, others frayed.

On especially vexing aspect of this mess lies in the peculiar polarization to which I’ve adverted before, whereby participants in this struggle occlude the extent to which “being the church” has always involved reasoned disagreements about what the church is and should be about. Instead, many all around me are dead set on winning, vindicating their sense that theirs is the exclusive tenable vision of which the church should be like. But the church has never been a place where a single vision of itself prevailed; the church has always dealt with internal dissent. The question is, which dissents are tolerable, on what terms, to whom? (The least likely, most outlandish possibility above — that of joining the Roman Catholic church on some terms — actually might entail the greatest latitude for intelligible dissent, under the peculiar circumstances; thoughtful contemporary Roman Catholic theologians espouse views very similar to those I advance, with the recognition that that’s not what the church itself teaches [yet].)

Whatever happens, I’ll end up something of an inexplicable oddity to people around me, whether as a bereft catholic spirit among those who have become comfortably Protestant, or as a “reassessing” committed Anglican among ascendant “reasserters,” or as an Anglican heart in a Roman world. I’ll be testifying to the theological soundness of catholic allegiance (with its attendant frustrations and injuries) to sisters and brothers who value their vision of justice over a commitment to bearing with predominant, disagreeing sisters and brothers — or testifying to the theological soundness of an understanding of human sexuality that affirms the sanctity of particular relationships that the church to which I’ve pledged fidelity and obedience itself rejects.

Good thing I didn’t get into this racket for the sheer fun of it. For the time being, I’ll pray that we remember that the church has strayed into very swampy terrain before, that God will guide us out, through, past, and even within the swamp if we open our hearts to the Spirit, and that on the whole, I’m a relatively insignificant part of a salvific purpose much greater and wiser and more encompassing than I can imagine. . . .

Nature Stories

I woke this morning to the strangely thrilling news that the ivory-billed woodpecker may not be extinct. I’ve been aware of ivory-bills from my childhood; I have a vague memory (Mom can check me on this) that the family copy of Roger Tory Peterson’s A Field Guide to the Birds included a picture of the ivory-bill beside the pileated woodpecker, with a pencilled “X” beside it. (Margaret and I saw a pileated woodpecker in our neighbor’s back yard in Princeton; it was a wonderful, exciting moment.)

And from the sublime to a pond in Germany, toads are exploding for no discernible reason. “[C]ity residents have been warned to stay away from the pond” — advice that I imagine is pretty easy to obey.

As Advertised

Some random thoughts: First, I thought the clerical attire answer would be the less volatile of the two ecclesiastical entries I was contemplating. Little did I anticipate the attention it would draw.

Second, Tom Coates is pumping out buckets of wisdom in his entries on pointing at things and on the fate of Trackback and comments. Don’t let the vari-colored highlighted links throw you.

Third, I should have figured this out years ago, but I’ve begun filling out the end-of-term evaluation sheets for my classes as I go, so that by the end of the term they’ll already be mostly filled out. It’s a no-brainer, which reflects negatively on my practice up to this point (at least I figured this out eventually).

As advertised: random thoughts.

What I Wear

I’ll start with the easier of the two questions: When do I wear clerical garb, and why?

My current practice is to wear clericals when I’m exercising the ministry to which I was ordained — that is, when I’m serving in liturgical or educational ministries (or stand available so to do). In practice, that means I wear black on Sundays and on days that I teach, and other days if I’m leading worship (or exercising my teaching ministry in a non-classroom way).

The arguments against wearing clericals involve — insofar as I understand them — the implied claim that a clergyperson is someone special. Clerical attire signifies (on this account) privilege and power, a staked claim on a disproportionate share of heavenly goods. Someone dressed in clergywear can be seen to ask for special attention from the world: “Notice me, respect me, I’m holy.” That not only reflects poorly on the ordained person, but also disables lay ministry; if I, as a priest, am special and notable, then I can naturally be expected to exercise special and notable functions. A non-ordained observer plausibly concludes that she or he need not participate in leadership, in active outreach, in theological reflection, and so on; that, after all, is the special ministry of the ordained.

That’s what they call “clericalism.” It’s a Bad Thing, on even the most charitable account. Everything in the paragraph above contravenes the ideals expressed in Scripture and in the best and wisest of the church’s tradition.

At the same time, it’s more complicated than just that.

If it be granted that some clergy wear their clothes as a claim to privilege, my experience of wearing clericals differs. Often as not, my black clothes and funny collar make me a target for a variety of people’s off-kilter projections. I don’t expect anything different from people when I’m in black, but I wear my uniform since that’s part of a signifying system by which I’m marked as “available for help, spiritual counsel, listening to long explanations of why you don’t go to church any more,” and so on. If it’s a claim to privilege, these are privileges that don’t appeal much to me.

I wear clericals for a variety of reasons. For one, it’s the uniform. I don’t feel any imperative to conceal the fact that I’m a priest, nor to make a big deal about it. It’s my job, as the UPS carrier’s job is to carry packages, and she wears brown, and I wear black.

Should clergy wear uniforms? I can see arguments both ways. For the time being, I’m inclined to think it’s good that people can spot a priest if they feel the need. It’s worth signaling to the world that some people take this stuff seriously enough to make themselves answerable to the world’s outlandish expectations. It’s worth putting myself in the line of ideological fire. And plain clothes don’t ensure clerical innocence; clergy can certainly still manage to be self-important, manipulative, passive-aggressive, abusive rats even without black clothing. Humble is as humble does, in black or in blue jeans or in a natty suit.

If there’s a special-treatment factor, it’s much less a matter of something I expect, but something with which people can surprise me. If my being a priest gives others an occasion to be kinder or more generous than they would otherwise be, I suppose that’s good for them. If they’re extra kind to me one day, it might contribute to their being extra kind to someone else another day. That sort of generosity can be habit-forming.

Does my being visible disempower non-ordained people? Quite possibly so, if they already have a malformed idea of what a priest is. All the more reason, then, that they should see me and observe that I’m not trying to put something over on them, to order them around, to make them gofers for gratifying my self-indulgent whims. All the more reason for them to be able to know that I as a priest am encouraging them, exhorting them to exercise the fullness of their ministries.

People who want a priest can identify me as someone to ask for money, for prayers, for a hand, for directions, for advice. That’s what I volunteered to cope with eighteen years ago (almost nineteen now, making me feel very old). People who resent a priest’s wearing clericals can vent their frustrations at me.

At the end of the day — or more precisely, first thing in the morning, when I get dressed — it’s a matter of a signifying practice. I don’t control the signification of my attire, but I venture that sign because I’m committed to the best of what it signifies. I’m willing to be judged for the extent to which I comply with the pernicious significations (and I certainly don’t want to try to evade responsibility for those significations just by dressing differently). I’m a servant, of a particular kind, and I took on this service willingly; it’s the right thing for me to do. And I don’t mind if you can tell by looking, and I don’t mind if that irks you, and I’m sorry if you read my clothing in the light of poor examples of my colleagues (I try not to hold all police to blame for the bad ones). By wearing a black shirt and collar, I signify my willingness to deal with the complications of a clerical vocation head-on, the bad with the good, and to let you draw your conclusions about how that pans out.

Br. Bruce

“Most of my music is probably, at this point, a lot of it is traced back to the gospel roots, you know. ‘Promised Land,’ ‘The Rising,’ I use a lot of gospel which is where a lot of rock music came from. The first front men were really the preachers. So I was drawn to music that addressed the spirit, probably because my own needed to be addressed!”
— NPR interview with Renée Montagne

Full Day

After having somewhat gathered the forces of my concentration over the weekend, I had a very full day today tackling the backed-up papers that I’d been ignoring while I worked on my lecture from last week. Consequently, I don’t have anything particular left over to say here today.

I devoted a lot of my spare cycles to thinking about (a) clerical attire, when I wear it and why, in response to a question from Francis Watson, and (b) how I will have to think about my orders if any of a variety of foreseeable outcomes arises relative to the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion, and the Roman Catholic Church. Short answer: I’m not inclined to try to subsist in a national Protestant church, which seems likely to portend headaches.

Sorry, Kyle

During Question Time at the end of my lecture, Tim Safford (whom I knew from old times in seminary) asked me what I meant by “emergent church” (did I mean, you know, emergent-church as in candles-and-coffee-shops, or something else)? I explained that I meant Emergent as in Emergent/emerging church, the kind of congregation I’ve learned about and talked about with friends from Reconciler and with Jordon (who preached his 500th sermon today) and with. . . um. . . that guy from Oklahoma. What’s his name?

Sorry, Kyle; I totally blanked on your name, at a moment I could have been shining the spotlight on you.

Wondering Aloud

What ever happened to hook shots? Did they change the rules, or the way games get called, in a way that made hook shots less legal? Did Kareem Abdul-Jabbar make the Skyhook so much his own, that lesser mortals don’t even try hook shots? Or are they still plentiful enough, and I happen not to have seen any this year?

Catching Up

Closing Panel

Originally uploaded by AKMA.

It’s been a long, busy week. I finally finished up my Winslow Lecture, and delivered it to a very full house on Thursday. It went well — a number of people gave very kind feedback about it — and I’ll post a summary in the “Extended” window below (it’s probably too long to post the whole thing, but I’ve uploaded a pdf of the complete text of my lecture, with notes).

Trevor came out from Ohio to stay with us during the series, which was terrific; we don’t get to see enough of him, now that he’s far away. We got to see a little of Steve, less than we’d have liked, but it was complicated since Francis and Kevin were here on equal standing as lecturers, though not such long-term friends. It was excellent getting to talk at greater length with Kevin and Francis, and at lunch yesterday Kevin allowed that my more loosely-joined hermeneutics (more loose than his) make more sense to him when he sees the shape of community life here.

At dinner Thursday night, at Koi in Evanston (home of the “Mongolian Plates,” which the menu describes: “The major staple of this dish is its wok-seared characteristic”), we learned that not only did Francis not know about blogging and tofu, but he didn’t know what a dumpster was, either. Steve helpfully equated “dumpster” with a British “skip,” so that was easily solved. “And another thing word I didn’t recognize,” Francis added, “was — ‘mojo’?” That was a little harder for us to explain, especially with a degree of circumspection concomitant with Francis’s dignity and decorum. I suggested that he might have heard of Muddy Waters, and he, at the other end of the table, said, “Oh, it means ‘to muddy the waters’?” At that point, we were nearly helpless at the incongruity of the situation.

I’m very relieved to have finished this up, and a little embarrassed at how much less-well-developed my thoughts were in South Bend last week, compared to the way I ordered them in my formal lecture this week.
Continue reading “Catching Up”