Sunday, September 26, 2010

"It is important to give thanks in a way that will change lives"

Some weeks ago, there was an earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand. While there was significant damage, there was no loss of life and limited injuries. There was, however, significant damage to property.

The Bishop of Christchurch happens to be a Canadian. Victoria Matthews is the former Bishop of Edmonton. And. longer ago than either of us would likely care to admit, she was doing an advanced degree at Trinity College while I was doing my MDiv. (I recall one of those ever so serious discussions about what we should call female priests - and Victoria's startling assertion that we should call them "Father" as well. I once heard someone refer to her as Vicky. Somehow, I can't imagine her answering.)

There were a number of interesting articles about the role Victoria played in the aftermath of the earthquake. For some time, she slept on the floor of her study, since ther rest of her house wasn't deemed safe. She held crisis team meetings in that study each morning - presumably after rolling up the matress. There were issues of communications, since office emails were in an unsafe building. There were concerns about diocesan payroll being paid out on time. She directed that all diocesan clergy were to wear their collars - whatever their usual practice - so that they might be recognized and approached by people still in distress.

One of the most striking images was of Victoria presiding at the impromptu deconsecration of a chapel. The engineers had declared the structure unsound and in danger of imminent collapse - with the possibility that it could damage the seniors home next door. Here we see +Victoria Christchurch - not in cope and mitre, but in raincoat and hardhat - pronouncing the deconsecration moments after the engineer had given his verdict.

I emailed Victoria - as one does. She was obviously busy, so the delay in her reply is entirely understandable. The content proclaims a gospel message with startling clarity.

Today, as an act of thanksgiving that there was no loss of life, Victoria has asked her diocese to raise $100,000 (NZ$, I presume, so about C$75,000 or US$73,000) for Haiti, where the earthquake last January caused far greater devastation, including substantial loss of life.

It is very easy, in the midst of our own crises great or small, to maintain a proper perspective, to look beyond one's own devastation to see the greater devastation of another.

I close with Victoria's closing words from her email:

It is important to give thanks
in a way that will change lives.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Happier Church (or at least a happier vicar)

The following manifesto comes from the Church Times. When I open the link, it's all mushed together and unreadable, so for ease of revolutionaries everywhere, here is the advice of the Rev'd Hugh Raymond-Pickard, Area Dean of Kensington, Diocese of London, Church of England from 2006. Some are CofE-specific and one is dated, but you'll get the point.

  • There will be mandatory microphone training for all clergy. I never want to hear another child asking: "What's the Vicar doing?" as a member of the clergy fumbles in an unseemly way inside his or her clerical robes in order to switch on a radio microphone.

  • Signs are to go up outside all churches and vicarages saying, "Please do not apologise for swearing in front of the Vicar." Clergy really have heard all commonly used obscenities, are not shocked, and, in my experience, swear like celebrity chefs when out of earshot of the churchwarden.

  • To cheer up dull church meetings, members of the Prayer Book Society will be required, when speaking at PCCs and synods, to talk in Elizabethan English.

  • There will be a fine every time the word "just" is used in prayers. ("We just want to thank you, Lord" etc., etc.) There is no biblical precedent for it; there are no "justs" in the Lord's Prayer, for example. All proceeds to charity.

  • Once a year, all Evangelical clergy will have to dress up and use incense; and all Anglo-Catholic clergy will preside in knitwear, and display the liturgy on an overhead projector.

  • There will be a compulsory five-a-side football league at the 2008 Lambeth Conference. Teams will be chosen at random, except for Archbishop Akinola, who will have to play goalie on Bishop Gene Robinson's side. (Imagine the conversation in the showers afterwards.)

  • This notice is to go up in every church porch: "Thank you for not wearing high-gloss lipstick when receiving the chalice."

  • Once a year, all clergy must sit through a videotape of themselves presiding and preaching at worship. This will remind the clergy how long-suffering the lay people of the Church of England are.

  • The phrase "lady vicar" will be banned.

  • Just for fun, beards must be worn by all male clergy engaged in ecumenical discussions with the Orthodox Churches.

  • T. S. Eliot may be quoted in the vicar's sermons only once each year.

  • There is to be a ten-year moratorium on reading The Journey of the Magi at carol services.

  • A contract will be negotiated with an international coffee-house chain to supply nice-tasting hot beverages after church services around the country. (Instant coffee may only be used in an emergency.)

  • Bishops will be required to attend drumming workshops. Archbishop Sentamu can then lead an annual massed procession of drumming bishops through the streets of London.

  • PCC meetings will last no longer than 60 minutes; members will be encouraged to make their contributions once only and as briefly as possible.

  • The definite article will be inserted into the phrase "fresh expressions of church" so that it reads "fresh expressions of the Church" and at last makes some sense to baffled non-churchgoers.

  • Electric buttons marked "I don't know this hymn" will be fitted in all pews and will relay to a display in the incumbent's stall.

  • Hymns Ancient and Modern will at last be renamed Hymns Ancient.

  • Adverts for clerical jobs will no longer be allowed to carry boasts about the previous incumbent: "Owing to the appointment of the Revd Joe Blogg as Dean/Archdeacon/Bishop (delete as appropriate) we are seeking a new Vicar."

  • At services where the clergy speak in sing-song voices, the congregation will be authorised to respond in kind.

  • At weddings, the mother of the bride will be allowed only to do the flowers if she can produce a recognised flower-arranging qualification and references from satisfied customers.

  • Deanery synods will be suspended for five years. After which time, it will require a two-thirds majority to bring them back into existence.

  • Finally, the following strap line will be carried on all CofE literature, websites, T-shirts, and bumper stickers: "Taking small steps towards a happier Church of England."

Compare and Contrast

Compare and contrast this story of a Church that wants to hold someone accountable for failing to deal with sexual misconduct with this story about a Church that ignores serious accusations of sexual misconduct.

The tell me again how the so-called Global South has the moral high ground.

(Thanks to We Like Sheep for the illustration.)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

When all else fails, spew hate

Some progressives of my acquaintance like to blame Prime Minister Stephen Harper for the degrading of political discourse in Canada. He certainly shows that he has little if any grasp of the concept of civility. To disagree with him is to be vilified by an army of vapid spokesthingees armed with misleading talking points and odious innuendo.

On more than one occasion, Harper has paid the price of his own asshattery. He was on track to win the 2004 election against a feckless Liberal Prime Minister and a Liberal Party awash in scandal. Then, the Conservative attack machine issued a pair of news releases accusing Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin and prominent New Democrat MP Bill Blaikie of supporting child pornography.

Having managed to keep his political Tourette's Syndrome under control during the 2006 campaign, he had managed to eak out a minority government. He was on track to win a majority in 2008 when his baser instincts took over, his mask slipped, and he launched into a nasty attack on the cultural industry - costing him seats in Quebec and his desired majority.

Since then, his entire public persona has been turned to demonizing anyone who disagrees with his far right political views.

Seriously, our doufus of a Prime Minister makes Rush Limbaugh look thoughtful, Sarah Palin look smart and Glenn Beck look sane.

But it's not really fair to blame the debasing of our political culture solely at the feet of Stephen Harper. In fact, he's a Stevey-cum-lately to the process.

We need to look back just a decade earlier, to see the way in which Jean Chretien, with his creature Warren Kinsella, framed a series of federal elections around the demonization of Western Canadians, of people of faith, and in particular, of anyone who thought that owning a firearm wasn't necessarily an evil thing.

The touchstone of this mutual demonization has been the Canadian Firearms Registry.

Since this is the only substantive issue on which the Harper Conservatives and the Ignatieff Liberals actually disagree, both parties have an interest in stoking up the temperature of the debate. Both parties use the Registry as a shibboleth - and as a serious source of fundraising.

The Liberals say that the registry is a useful tool for law enforcement and for enhancing public safety.

The Conservatives say that the registry is an unwarranted intrusion into the lives of firearms owners - the vast majority of whom are responsible and law-abiding citizens.

Frankly, they're both right.

While one might question whether the registry is the best public policy option (especially considering the cesspool of waste and corruption involved in creating it), it seems pretty obvious that it is useful to be able to trace individual weapons to individual owners.

But it is also perfectly reasonable to ask why even the most minor omission (ie, late filings) should be treated as a criminal offense. Not to mention the entirely odious enforcement provision that essentially allows the police to set aside the need for a warrant if they claim that there might be an unregistered weapon.

Now, a sane person (that is to say, a person who is neither a Liberal nor a Conservative) might wonder why we can't find a way to fix the current regulatory regime. Why can't we get rid of the anti-democratic search provision, decriminalize minor violations and reduce the cost of registration?

But for the past 15 years, the Liberals and the Conservatives have conspired together to ensure that there could be no reasonable consideration of firearms regulation. Both parties have far too much invested in the registry as wedge politics. Both parties play on fear, both to mobilize their voter base and to raise pots of money. (Of course, the Conservatives are far more effective at raising money of the issue, but that's because of Liberal fecklessness, not want of Liberal trying.)

Both parties are playing the ugliest kind of wedge politics, stoking the worst fears of their respective voter bases. The Conservatives pretend that registration will inevitably lead to contemptuous urbanites confiscating grandpa's duck hunting rifle, while the Liberals pretend that registration is the only thing standing between civilization and armies of crazy farmer descending on Toronto in an orgy of lead and death.

A pox on both their hatemongering houses.

Yes, Stephen Harper and the Conservatives like to drive wedges between Canadians, encouraging a culture of regional envy and demographic distrust. They have watched the Liberal Party under Jean Chretien and they have learned from the masters.

At least when Bowser and Blue Three or Dead Trolls in a Baggie play wedge politics, they're only joking.

Better we should all remember that we're all in this together.

And finally, a bit more Bowser and Blue. Dedicated to both Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Saying no to the Anglican Covenant

There are no end of articles online setting out the weaknesses and dangers of the Anglican Covenant as currently proposed. Ironically, Rowan Williams's pet project seems to have almost as many detractors on the far right as it has among moderates and progressives.

Last week's meeting of the Anglican Provinces in Africa saw the current draft of Williams's Covenant dismissed as inadequate for its lack of punitive clauses. The demand on the right is for all power to be placed in the hands of a new Curia made up of the Primates, based on the far right's belief that Williams is a weak reed.

The Anglican Covenant is the greatest attempted centralization of authority since the de facto creation of the Anglican Communion due to the final disestablishment of episcopacy in Scotland (1689) and the consecration of the first American bishop (1784). Despite the pretty words of 4.1.3 that the Covenant "does not represent submission to any external ecclesiastical jurisdiction," nor "grant to any one Church or agency of the Communion control or direction over any Church," 4.2.7 is very clear that the newly minted Standing Committee (whose creation has been a sideshow of smoke, mirrors and skullduggery) will have authority effectively to direct "relational consequences" to be imposed on recalcitrant Provinces.

Several commentators have already laid out the dangers of this authoritarian usurpation, including The Modern Churchpeople's Union here, MCU's General Secretary Jonathon Clatworthy here, and Guardian columnist Savitri Hensman here and here. There are countless others, and they aren't hard to find. Among the best are the semi-satirical briefing notes by Paul Bagshaw which purport to be the internal analysis of the non-existent Province of Antarctica, see here, here, here and here. (The picture at the right shows the Executive Archdeacon of the Province with his family. Is it any wonder I so love Antarctic Anglicanism?)

The biggest challenge Covenant-sceptics face right now is that the authoritarian centralization this Covenant entails are not immediately obvious to people who haven't been closely following the Anglican wars over the past year or two. They are unaware of the way in which the "necessity" of a Covenant has been foisted on the Communion by the effective fiat of a British government appointee taking a non-binding recommendation of an advisory committee and essentially declaring it to be an article of faith. They are unaware of the dubious provenance of a Covenant Design Committee presided over by a Primate who has actively engaged in schism, or the effective exclusion of all but the most conservative voices in the entire process. They look on the Covenant as an abstract exercise, and they do not see the problem in the abstract.

But the "final draft" of the Covenant (final because one man has decided it is final) is not an abstract. It is a profoundly unAnglican coup d'eglise, which would see Anglican theology and ecclesiology redrawn as a Frankenstein's monster with the authoritarian centralism of Rome and the reactionary instincts of the American religious right financiers of the ponderous prelates who have manufactured the present crisis.

So, what do we do?

Like any other political campaign - and ecclesiastical politics is no less political than secular politics - we need education and organization.

It is imperative that Covenant-sceptics not sit quietly while the centralizers try to sneak the Covenant in through the back doors of our synods and conventions. We need to speak up in parishes, deaneries, archdeaconries and dioceses about the authoritarian centralism of the Covenant. We need to write letters to diocesan and national papers, to the Church Times and pretty much to anyone who will publish our letters. We need to speak to our friends and colleagues, to our fellow parishioners, both clerical and lay. We need to speak to our diocesan synod / convention delegates.

But education is not enough. Successful campaigns are successful because they organize. Covenant-sceptics must offer themselves for election as delegates to diocesan synods or conventions. We need to offer ourselves as delegates to every level of synod or convention in our respective Provinces. We need to identify as Covenant-sceptics openly, honestly and fearlessly.

We need to develop key messages that appeal to particular constituencies. For example, no honest observer can pretend for a moment that we would have female deacons, priests and bishops in the Angllican Communion today had the Covenant been a reality in the 1970s. Every female cleric should be considering the implications of that - as should any person, ordained or lay, who supports the ordination of women.

Education and organization are the key. And now is the time.

Of course, even if it were approved, the authoritarian centralization of the Anglican Covenant is doomed to fail. After all, as Eddie Izzard says, "The Spanish Inquisition wouldn't have worked with Church of England." And on this, I think Eddie Izzard is far wiser that either Henry Orombi or Rowan Williams.