Saturday, December 08, 2007
We just had a new roof on our house. We are about to have a new furnace installed as well. Money is going to be tight around Ockham Manor for a while. Part of home ownership is that you have to deal with these issues from time to time. When you own your own home, you also have to deal with maintenance. One day this coming week, we will be in the yard cutting back some plants that have grown to close to our gutters.
One of the religious cliches of our time is the use of the phrase 'church home'. The idea is a fairly positive one. If one church is your church home, that is where you are comfortable. That is where you can rest and recuperate.
But churches, like houses, need maintenance. Every church vestry is well aware of how expensive a new roof can be. Or a new furnace. But homes, even church homes are not just about physical objects. Homes involve people. And where you have people, you have relationships.
I'm no expert in relationships. In our marriage, so far we've managed to get by. We've had some good times and we've definitely had some rough times. Mostly we've improvised as trouble crops up and that seems to have worked.
Churches involve many people, which can mean that the relationships get complex. Also, it is very rare for a church relationship to be anyone's primary relationship. So that if there is trouble with your son and trouble at the church, the church gets what time and attention you have left over after your son.
All of this blindingly obvious, but where trouble creeps in is with conflict resolution. In a marriage, how a couple deals with conflict is one of the keys to whether the relationship works or doesn't. And every couple knows that fights are inevitable. Some couples fight more than others. Some seem to do it on a schedule. But we all do it and trying to avoid a fight generally seems to make things worse.
Most churches I know deal with conflict by avoidance. Because we all think we have enough conflict in our lives, when it comes to non-primary relationships the desire to place potential conflicts on the back burner is very hard to resist.
The Episcopal church has definitely been avoiding trouble. I've been reading reports from the recent round of diocesan conventions. My diocese, the diocese of Atlanta, is probably fairly typical of those. The Bishop here spent more time discussing the current dissension than most.
Here is what he said:
"Before concluding this address, I would like to make a few comments concerning the state of affairs in The Episcopal Church and in the Anglican Communion. As you know, in September the House of Bishops met in New Orleans for its annual fall meeting. The Archbishop of Canterbury accepted our invitation to be present with us and we were joined by members of the Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates of the Anglican Communion. The conversations were frank and clarifying, but gracious and productive. A spirit of goodwill pervaded the meeting.
After two days of conversation with our guests, and a workday in New Orleans to clear our heads, the bishops set about the task of responding to the requests of the Primates of the Anglican Communion expressed in the communiqué from their meeting last spring in Dar es Salaam. It is important to note that, although the Primates’ communiqué has been read by some as an ultimatum, our guests from around the Communion made it abundantly clear that they did not understand it that way. Nonetheless, in a spirit of generosity and humility, your bishops decided that we would try to respond faithfully to their requests, to the degree that we could, fully recognizing that we could speak only as the bishops of this church and that we could not speak definitively for our church apart from the General Convention. Naturally, there are those who believe the bishops wimped out and should have responded more forcefully. There are others who clearly believe that the bishops overstepped our authority. Frankly, I believe both such viewpoints are quite simply incorrect. The bishops were asked to clarify the meaning of the actions of the 2006 General Convention in response to the Windsor Report. We did exactly and only that. We declared absolutely nothing that was not already established, explicitly or implicitly, by the actions of the last General Convention. Many in the church are at odds with the decisions of the last convention with respect to the Windsor Report. Some believe the Convention went too far, others believe the convention did not go far enough. But, either way, I believe the bishops’ response to the Primates is an accurate reflection of where we are as a church at this time, as painful as that place may be for many of our people. Here it is important to note that, unlike most communications from the House of Bishops, which are termed “mind of the House resolutions,” we intentionally did not call our response a “mind of the House.” Your bishops are not of one mind on the church’s response to the Windsor Report any more than the church is of one mind. What we were able to do is to describe where we believe our church is at the present time. It is not a comfortable place for many of us and it is almost surely not the place to which the church will eventually land, but it is the place we find ourselves at this time. What is important for you to know is that by near-unanimous consent – with one dissenting and audible voice-- your bishops were able to agree, not on the issues, but on a response to the Primates of the Communion, a response that provides a clear and honest picture of where we are.
What concerns me is that much of the conversation seems to be framed in either-or categories and language. Needless to say, that’s not a very Anglican way of thinking! There are those who insist that the church plow full-speed ahead on any and all issues that can possibly be framed in gospel-justice terms and let the unity of the church be damned. The opposing position is just as clear: preserve the unity of the church and our participation in the Anglican Communion at all costs, even at the risk of losing our soul.
The problem is that polar thinking is always shallow thinking. Polar positions are always as weak as they are strong. The truth, dear friends, is we have a moral obligation to pursue both – justice and unity – and to pursue both of them boldly, faithfully and tirelessly. Justice without care for the unity of the church will be selfish, shortsighted, and shallow. Unity without justice is a sham, a shame, and a sin.
Finally, I want to tell you how distressed I am about the proposals before the conventions of three or four sister dioceses of our church that seek to amend their diocesan constitution and canons purportedly to make it possible for them to disregard the actions of the General Convention and to position themselves for realignment with a foreign prelate. In our church and in our Anglican tradition, not to mention the apostolic and catholic tradition of the whole church, a parish exists because it is in communion with its bishop as part of the bishop’s diocese geographically defined. In like manner, a diocese cannot exist apart from its establishment by the General Convention. Passing vestry resolutions to the contrary, or amending diocesan canons, does not change these ancient and well-worn ecclesial principles: Parishes are part of dioceses and dioceses are part of the church. That’s the way it works in the Episcopal Church. That’s the way it works in Anglicanism. That’s the way apostolic faith and order work.
Long before you called me to be your bishop, I understood that a large part of what a bishop does is to be a connector: to connect clergy and people with each other so that their experience of church is always larger than their local parish, to connect dioceses to other dioceses so that their experience of church is always larger than the local church, and to connect the church with the Anglican Communion and the ecumenical church catholic so that our experience of church is always as whole and as far-reaching as possible. To put it another way, we expect our bishops to be for us signs of unity toward which Christ calls his church by the power of the Spirit. So you can see why it would trouble my soul when I see some of my brother bishops who seem to be working against the unity of the church and plotting its destruction. I believe that as a bishop I have every right to my convictions, to argue my positions, to declare my loyalties, and when necessary, to be difficult to live with. But I also have a solemn obligation to stay at the table no matter how unpleasant the company, to live within the discipline of this church, and to do everything in my power to build up the family of God no matter how difficult that might be on some days. It breaks my heart to see bishops of this church, who took the same ordination vows I did, disregard their solemn obligations to our common life.
Deep in the psyche of Anglicanism is a profound respect for the conscience of an individual before God. I will honor, I will respect, and I will defend anyone – layperson, priest, bishop, or deacon – who for reasons of his or her own conscience cannot stay in communion with us. That’s a long held and deeply honored Anglican position. But no one, no one has the right – no bishop or priest, in particular – to let their conscience in any matter lord it over their parish, their diocese, or their church. I can easily imagine, friends, multiple lists of things that our church could do that would make me unhappy. I’ll fuss, I’ll whine, and I’ll be cantankerous, but I shall also be obedient. I find it hard to imagine that the church would ever do something that would so trouble my conscience that I could no longer find some way, however tenuous, to stay in the family. I can’t think of anything that would ever keep me away from the table of God’s generosity. Being a faithful bishop means leading the people committed to your care toward the fullness of the church, toward the richness of the tradition, toward that deeper unity that comes only from the Spirit of the Risen Christ. It never means pulling them apart or leading them away no matter what troubles you. "
What strikes me is how he totally avoids mentioning what the actual issues are. He uses process language to describe what happened without dealing with any actual content. Underlying the whole passage is the idea of pluriform and relative truth. That no one way is ever the right way. Not only is that patently false, it means that conflict never gets addressed and thus resolved.
The last three paragraphs describe his notion of what a bishop is. Nowhere is there leadership. Because a leader, leads. It's the root of the word. And to effectively lead a people, you have to have some idea of where it is you are going, whether it be Canaan or Atlanta. If anyone can tell me how a church can be led “toward the fullness of the church, the richness of the tradition”, I'd love to hear it. The processes described lead the churches he is in charge of towards avoidance of conflict, and nowhere else.
Avoiding conflict can result in a very peaceful church. After a while that sort of church usually begins to resemble another quiet place, a graveyard. More to the point, the best and brightest of a church, the ones who care about what church is truly about will not stick around for eternal process. In such situations Bishop Alexander wins by default.
That is exactly what has happened in the diocese of Atlanta. He became bishop in 2001. In 2001, the diocese had an average Sunday attendance (ASA) of 19,113. In 2006, ASA was 17,792, for a decline of -7%. To put things even further in perspective, in 2001 the population of Metro Atlanta (roughly contiguous with the diocese) was 4,187,003. In 2006 the population was 5,240,531, for a growth of 25%. In 2001, active Episcopalians comprised .46% of the population. Today, active Episcopalians are .34% of the metro population.
I do not have any numbers on how many are going to Anglican alternative churches. I do know that such churches have proliferated, going from two in 1986 to more than twenty in north Georgia. One such church, founded in 1987 (Church of the Apostles), reports 3,000 members. I do not know how that correlates to ASA or, indeed, how accurate the number is.
I think I know what is keeping the new migrants away from the Episcopal church. The diocese does not know what it is about. The diocese does not know what it is about because there is no discussion of ideas, only processes. And the discussion is restricted to process because the bishop does not want conflict. Very few people are attracted to a church that is committed to stasis.
I've seen the video for the Pittsburgh and the Fort Worth diocesan conventions. What struck me most was how un-Episcopalian the bishops were. They both discussed content. Of course, they framed the discussion in the best light possible, but even so, ideas were actually discussed. I suspect that the same will hold true today in San Joaquin.
I have also been struck by how accommodating the three bishops have been to dissenters. This is in stark contrast to the other bishops. Which leads me to an uncomfortable conclusion. If what you are about is the Truth, then you can let dissidents keep the property, because while it is material, it is irrelevant to what you are about. If you do not know the Truth, then the material becomes paramount, because that is all you are left with.
I do not like that conclusion. But my unease convinces me that it is likely true.
Note: This is a rough draft. I'm intending to flesh it out a bit more. I'm posting it in the hopes of getting some criticism. Either comment here or email me at mousestalker -at-gmail.com (replace the -at- with @).
Friday, December 07, 2007
Book of Inertia
1st Letter of Katherine to the Heretics
2nd Letter of Katherine to the Heretics
3rd Letter of Katherine to the Heretics
Epistle to Chatham
Epistle to Pasadena
Epistle to Hammonton
Book of Tantrums
Revision: Changed title to post to make it punchier.
I saw this article and was somewhat appalled. As a real estate attorney, I'm somewhat aware of how interest rates are right now, I know something about sub-prime lending practices and adjustable rate mortgages. Now it appears that the freeze will be a reality.
Rate freezes sound like a great deal. And they are, for debtors. In the short term. The problem is that the purchasers of those debt instruments are being deprived of their property rights. And that is going to chill the repurchase market for home loans for quite a while. It's politically attractive because the people who benefit will know who to thank. However, everyone who borrows against their house from now to the forseeable future will wind up paying for it in the form of higher borrowing costs.
I know some of my readers will be wondering why, if it's going to chill the market, Countrywide is so keen on it. Countrywide does not hold the loans. They merely originate them. When you borrow from Countrywide, they resell your note to someone else. If the property goes into foreclosure, then the holder may be able to force Countrywide to buy back the note. Which leaves Countrywide owning property that is less than what it originally appraised for.
While this proposal will hurt Countrywide's origination business, it should substantially reduce their liability for loan defaults. So, in the short run, it's a very good deal for Countrywide. But how good a deal is it for the pension funds that are the major holders of ARM notes?
To get a handle on how things are for Countrywide, I decided to see how they did in October in Fulton County, GA (largest county in Georgia). Countrywide Home Loans, Inc recorded 47 security deeds for the month of October. In Georgia, mortgages are not typically used, so security deeds are. No one but real estate attorneys calls them security deeds though. Everyone else calls them mortgages.
Countrywide foreclosed on six properties during the same time period. So their business is down and they're having to buy back a fairly high percentage ( 13%) of the loans they are currently making. No wonder they're eager to stem the tide of foreclosures.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
1. Get some water very very hot.
2. Add cocoa powder to said water. Stir frantically. When the water is dark dark brown, stop adding cocoa powder.
3. Add about half as much Splenda as you did cocoa powder. This time stir frenetically.
4. Add the teansiest bit of salt. Just a few specks will do.
5. (optional) Add either vanilla or cinnamon or both. If you have a cold, try adding the merest drop of pepper sauce.
6. Stir kinetically.
7. Drink and enjoy.
This concoction has almost no carbs and no fat. It is Atkins friendly, Weight Watchers friendly and Matthew friendly.
But I have been thinking about some things. I read this essay about a first year teachers experience in a Washington DC elementary school. One of the major changes over the past century is the steady decline in both discipline and educational standards. I'm starting to think that feminism is to blame.
I remember that Mr Boortz used to vilify feminazis, and probably still does, but I actually have a fair amount of logic on my side in this one. First, since women got the vote, both learning and discipline have declined in our public schools. Like it or not, that is unarguable. Just check out any high school syllabi from 1920 and compare with today.
But just because the changes coincide doesn't mean that there is a causal relationship. Migratory patterns in birds show a close temporal relationship with the popularity of skiing, but one does not cause the other.
In connection with women being granted voting rights is the rise in children's advocacy. The relationship there is direct. Children's advocacy groups typically advocate no corporal punishment. Once a school district bans corporal punishment, suits alleging child abuse skyrocket (I will supply cites later, but it's true). By and large these suits are not caused by actual mistreatment but from the largely accurate perception that school boards would rather settle than fight.
The threat of litigation causes school boards who are politicians, to back administrators that don't cause problems. The administrators who cause the least amount of trouble are the ones that cave in confrontations with voters (parents). Which mean that teachers receive little or no support from their employers. Teachers become unwilling to discipline problem children in any meaningful way.
Undisciplined children disrupt the classroom so no discipline means no time to teach. Which means that children either self-educate or they remain ignorant. I'm starting to believe that the unintended consequence of treating children as persons with rights is that they remain unlettered.
Second cause, and this is very much backed up by statistics. With other employment options open, the best and brightest women no longer wish to teach as a career. Education majors have been the stupidest and most ignorant college students, on average, now for decades.
I am not arguing for a repeal of the Nineteenth Amendment. And I certainly do not wish any group of people barred by law or custom from seeking the employment that would best gratify them. But, if the facts I've stated are true, if the situation is the way I fear it is, what do we do?
I know that any and all of my friends and acquaintances can discuss local issues such as oil spills without dire hints about Bush Administration malfeasance or incompetence. On a side note, I also know that we would never indulge ourselves in environmental cliches such as fragile and pristine. Every time I hear or read those words I want to throw Silent Spring at the utterer. And the hard back edition too, not the weeny paperback.
Our Leaders are actively looking for objects of their hatred. Much as I despise Spiro Agnew (and I do), the phrase "nattering nabobs of negativism" rings true when applied to these folks. The only way I can keep reading the bilge they spew is to invent nick names for the more egregious of the lot.
Which I will concede is not very Christ like of me.
I earlier asked the question How do you bring a sociopath to Christ? That question continues to haunt me.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
One note: The letter was posted on StandFirm at 2:08 pm EST. I'm willing to bet it was emailed to a number of parties at or before then. As of 5:41, the letter hasn't been acknowledged at ENS. Episcope is similarly clueless. The HoBD started to ferment about 20 minutes ago.
By contrast, the PB's missive was received by StandFirm at 8:34 on 12/3. It was posted at ENS at 6:40 on the same day. My point is that the official Episcopal media are slow.
I remarked a while back on another blog that I thought TEC hasn't caught up with the Internet age. I still think that.
Addendum: ENS finally reported the story at 6:11 pm. Of course, they don't quote it in full, although they do link to it. It's a wretched little piece of alleged journalism. Give me bloggers every time. Were Father Jake to fisk the letter, he'd do it right. He'd be wrong, but he'd at least get it done.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
I hope he doesn't read blogs because he very well might try running the referendum until the voters get it right.
Firstly, it's an open letter. Unless it was emailed or couriered, the first Bishop Schofield would have known about it was when he read "Episcopal Life Online". The Episcoapl Church has been many things, but the one thing Episcopalians have been noted for is manners. These open letters are plain tacky.
Second, there is no concrete offer made. The letter asks (demands) that Bishop Schofield repent and change his ways. There is no offer on the part of Bishop Schori to do anything. She does not offer to come meet with him. She does not offer to discuss it over the phone. She offers nothing. This letter is no offer to effect reconciliation. It's designed to bolster Bishop's Schori's standing amongst her supporters and to paper the file in prospect of litigation.
Third, Bishop Schori is apparently unaware of the Arian vs Athanasian controversy. What she says in her final paragraph about San Joaquin's possible actions being unprecedented is simply not the case. It's also rather ironic given what the Episcopal Church has done and is doing by way of Women's Ordination, Ordination of practicing homosexuals, recognition of gay marriage, and communion without baptism. But who am I to quibble? That these self-same revelations are what is driving San Joaquin from the embrace of the Episcopal Church is apparently irrelevant.
In the spirit of the season, I say "Bah, humbug!"
Monday, December 03, 2007
This is from BBC's Transtlantic series. Well worth searching Youtube for the rest. Transatlantic was apparently a collabrative between Celtic (British musicians) and Country (USA) musicians. I haven't heard a song yet in the series that wasn't well done.
Sunday, December 02, 2007
I've been hearing about Resveratrol for a while now. It's pretty pricey stuff. But if it can do half of what the hype says, then taking it might be worthwhile. I'm really torn about whether to try it or not.