Mar 052014

Snow was falling when I got up a couple of hours ago.

It’s falling still.

We have been under snow since, I think, January 3rd.  The day of rain we had a couple of weeks ago served only to solidify the flake into a sheet of ice, upon which another six inches or so of fresh snow has accumulated.

My town practices “alternate side parking” when two or more inches have fallen.  Odd numbered sides on odd days, and so on.  Folks are now so accustomed that at the first sign of snow, they rush to seize a parking spot on the appropriate side.

The weather forecast contains rumor of 40 in a few days.  For a day.  Then back below freezing.

My garden is covered by nearly a foot of snow.  At this point, with this forecast, one must wonder what is likely to survive.  Rabbits are stripping bark on the smaller shrubs.  A dogwood I planted last fall has been buried for two months.  A reluctant tree peony that I’ve been nursing along for a couple of years, and that finally showed signs of cheering up and growing last year, is also buried.  Are the early bulbs trying under the ice, or waiting?  I imagine that farmers are wondering.

When will it end?


Mar 032014

Sounds like a 20s novel, Nashotah being a slightly wayward young lady of the author’s acquaintance.  Which is how some conservative Anglicans are treating Nashotah House seminary. Let’s keep this simple in the event any of my two or three readers are unfamiliar with the characters in this pageant.

1. Katherine Jefferts Schori is the top bishop of The Episcopal Church (TEC). They call her, “Presiding Bishop and Primate,” but if she had a Secret Service code name it would be “Red Queen.” She likes to sue people. It’s more than a hobby, it’s a way of life.

2. Nashotah House is a seminary, not quite a property of The Episcopal Church but almost sort of but not really. It is quite willing to train priests from The Episcopal Church and from its rival, the Anglican Church in North America (yay, underdogs).

3. The Chairman of the Board of Nashotah House and it’s Dean are both members of the House of Bishops of TEC. They’re both good guys, for TEC Bishops.*

4. Red Queen has received an offer to preach at Nashotah House. Consternation arose. Attitudes were struck. I believe imprecations were tossed.

5. #4 is not surprising, given #3.

Some of those who, like me, have with various degrees of delight left TEC, now fear that orthodox students at Nashotah will contract Episcopal Bishop Contamination Sickness (EBCS) and become little Spongs (see, Spong, John, and Spong’s Ego). I doubt this is a substantial danger.

Now were I a student at The House, as it is fond of referring to itself, I would certainly have been up to the wee hours memorizing the Acta of the 23rd DemiEcumenical Council of Arles (813 AD-902 AD)** and St Macer Adhaeresus’s Commentary on the 22nd Council,*** fueled by virtuous coffee and cookies.  The presence of Presiding Bishop Schori would mean nothing so much as “nap time.” The ability to sleep with eyes wide open is essential job skill, for many will be the meetings these protoclerics must attend at which nothing is said, often in a mumble, at great length.  Also, for those happy folks who have never had a progressive TEC bish talk at them, falling asleep is the first and most natural choice for personal survival.

Wake up there! Pay attention!

Wake up there! Pay attention!

If detected, it is best to feign nausea (feigning may not be needed) or, in dire circumstances, madness. In any event, EBCS is unlikely if the teachers have done their jobs.

However, as usual, the debate began to turn to the question, “why on earth would an orthodox Anglican Christian remain within TEC,” and that’s a contentious one that tends to exhaust the kindliness of either side quickly. To many who have left, remaining within TEC is as unimaginable as volunteering to be a judge at a Vogon poetry festival. I’m quite happy to acknowledge that there are those who believe they have a vocation to remain in TEC, or whose theology of the Church prohibit them from leaving, and to let them be, but then I am tired all the time and my lifetime supply of indignation is nearly exhausted and the remaining minims should be conserved.  It’s better used on those who devise such phrases as “gorgeous glowing Flutterfield Flutter Flower” for grandfathers to read.  That one destroyed by ability to compose for several days.
*It is tempting to go all Jeremiah on the TEC HoB, as a group. “Strutting peacocks of damnation” comes to mind. But Lent is nigh, temptation must be avoided, and I shall restrain myself by confining invective to footnotes.

* *The 23rd Council was convoked to deal with a controversy regarding the varieties of beer suitable for consumption by clerics. It was prolonged by the frequent tastings of various brews, as well as the introduction of issues of ceremonial. The Germanic delegates are said to have found the climate pleasant.  They prolonged the conference with the serial introduction of additional matters to deliberate, so much so that the final Acta ran to 1738 items.

***The Acta of the 22nd Council are lost, and are known only in  Macer’s Commentary. If it is a commentary. It might be a sheep herd book.  Opinions vary.  St. Macer’s Latin is so ungrammatical as to be nearly incomprehensible. 


 Posted by at 7:04 am
Mar 022014

Wow, I really picked a good time to start posting less infrequently, did I not?  Tsar Vladi, having stolen everything worth stealing in Russia, is trying his hand at stealing a country, and our national security team is . . . short a few dwarves.  Tricky would have had the covers off half the missle silos, and the B-52 fleet airborne.  Ronnie, well, if charm hadn’t worked, would have said something like, “Look again.  What Black Sea Fleet?”  On the other hand, The Episcopal Church continues to shrink, but manages to stir controversy anyway.  The politics of Illinois continues to sink into a slough of incompetence and kleptomania.  And the weather.  O, the weather.  It’s a target rich environment, it is.  Tune in tomorrow . . .

 Posted by at 2:04 pm
Feb 262014

In more ordinary years, by February 26 Chicago area gardeners can wander around their plots, enjoying the very early growth, doing some clean up chores, maybe a little pruning. We delight in the probes sent up by the daffodils, we can see the haze of buds in the crown of trees, and the fat buds of tulip magnolias ready to erupt in a few weeks. Maybe we can spot the red pinpoints on rose canes that will grow into the first flush of roses in early June. In very warm years, the more adventurous bulbs, the crocus and squills, may be venturing into bloom.

Not this year. There have been grass sightings this week, after the rain we had last week, but if grass could whimper and cringe, this would. The temperature was – well, no, I won’t go there. There’s an increasing chance of another Big Snow this weekend. Repeated plowings have left an impenetrable kerf – ice now, after last week’s rain – a foot deep across the gate to the alley. It may take a few wee charges of C-4 to break it up enough to take the garbage out. Until then, I have to drive the garbage around.

For a while, I entertained the fantasy that a Beatrix Potter civilization of small animals had built tunnels and cities under the snow cover. There were few enough tracks above the snow, just rabbit and squirrel. The rain we got last week must have been catastrophic for this miniature world.

More seriously, I wonder what will survive, and what has not. I am very fond of David Austin’s roses, but they struggle in this intemperate climate. The heat depresses them, the cold kills them, too often. What of the other plants? Even the hardy Midwesterners, the daylilies and others, may find this too much.

In a few weeks, maybe, I’ll find out.

 Posted by at 10:30 am
Feb 122014

Amidst rising tensions between the United States of America and the recently formed Confederate States of America, Presiding Bishop Justinian Wellenough of the Protestant Episcopal Church offered his services to the rival factions.  In telegrams to the two Presidents-elect, Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln, Bishop Wellenough noted that February 12 was President-elect Lincoln’s birthday.  ”What better day to begin a facilitated conversation directed toward establishing a safe space to discuss our differences,” Bishop Wellenough noted.   “We must be able to recognize that our disagreements need not divide us.  It is the necessity of the Gospel that as Jesus reconciled us to the Father, we must work toward the gracious reconciliation of man with man.”

 Posted by at 4:58 pm
Jan 102014

The task of the Christian Church in ever-more secular western societies is murky. What is it that we’re doing? I suspect that lots of us ask that. Without the Christian consensus -however murky, inconsistent, and poorly formed – that pervaded Western culture until after World War II – it’s becoming increasingly hard to speak to a non-Christian culture, even before taking into consideration the various fractures and faction within Christianity. *bigsigh*

There are a lot of theories about what the Church may be, some of them rather grand if not grandiose. I find most useful St. Paul’s almost throwaway image that we are Christ’s ambassadors (II Cor 5). He tosses that out after a complex and deep discussion about our real home, our real place, and the image gains more depth the more you look at it. But it’s also one of Paul’s handy rules of thumb, I think. And I would like to refer to that while considering the Church of England’s now notorious “revision” of the Baptismal rite for children.

It’s first of all notable that the public discussion (and screaming and finger pointing) has largely been shaped by the British press, the first piranhas in the water, and that there is a context to the trial rite that should be considered. And maybe tossed overboard.

I wish I could say something like, “the baptism of children should mean the baptism of children of Christian parents, with Christian sponsors who will undertake to superintend the child’s Christian education, and who are members of the local community.” That would be nice. Happens less and less, I suppose, and maybe all the less often in the CofE. The motivation for the trial service is, according the its preface, to find more “accessible language” to explain baptism to an audience – scarcely a congregation – that is unfamiliar with Christian thought. Or so the preface states.

“Accessible language.” There’s a term that has so often been a Trojan horse for theological change that you would think that the revisionists would find another, one that was not such a klaxon. When I see “Accessible language” I sit back, fold my arms, and say “let’s see what you’re trying to get away with.”

The preface to the alternative rites has it that the impetus came from some clergy who have to deal with the situation of strangers who wander in demanding “christening” for their child, and who present as “godparents” folks who have even less connection to the Christian community. “In some instances there are few people present who have any real understanding of the Church’s language and symbolism. For the majority of those attending on such occasions, the existing provision can seem complex and inaccessible.” And this is of course one of the hard questions of pastoral ministry. Should one deny the benefits of baptism to a helpless child who may not have the opportunity again for many years (and one does think of Charles Williams’ novel in which a secret baptism of an infant helps to frustrate an evil man’s long plan many years later). In baptism we put a child into the hands of God; we may, collectively and individually, be privileged to be His agents, but, chiefly, we put the child into His hands.

So, puzzling over this situation and, maybe (or maybe not) hoping to make some sort of hay out of having in the church building some people who are not in the Church spiritually, one of those very English committees put together some language that, they say, is more “accessible” than that in Common Worship. Now so far this is very reasonable. Let’s see what is so incomprehensible about the baptismal rite in Common Worship, shall we?

The controversial bit seems to be as follows:

In baptism, God calls us out of darkness into his marvellous light.
To follow Christ means dying to sin and rising to new life with him.

Therefore I ask:
Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God?
I reject them.

Do you renounce the deceit and corruption of evil?
I renounce them.

Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour?
I repent of them.

Do you turn to Christ as Saviour?
I turn to Christ.

Do you submit to Christ as Lord?
I submit to Christ.

Do you come to Christ, the way, the truth and the life?
I come to Christ.

This is certainly simple language. It’s simple, clear, and “accessible,” without posh language or ambiguity. It’s hard to see what is “inaccessible” if the audience speaks English at all.

Oops. Three little words, maybe. “Devil,” “sin,” and “submit.” Ah. Words that some folks might consider – fuddy duddy. Old fashioned. Unfashionable. Its hard to choose the word that is most repellant to the modern progressive.  In fact, I wonder if the Baptismal vows have been even slightly incomprehensible since 1549, when they began (modernized) “Do you forsake the devil and all his works?” That was pretty clear.

Back to the trial rite.

The questions above are changed to this:

In baptism God calls us to new life.
We die with Christ to all that destroys,
and rise to live with him for ever.

Therefore I ask:

Do you reject evil?
I reject evil.

And all its many forms?
And all its many forms.

And all its empty promises?
And all its empty promises.

The candidates, together with their parents,
godparents and sponsors, may now turn to face the
font, a cross, or the large candle.

Do you turn to Christ?
I turn to Christ.

And put your trust in him?
And put my trust in him.

And promise to follow him for ever?
And promise to follow him for ever.

So we don’t have “the devil,” we don’t have “sin,” and we don’t have “submit.” “Do you reject evil” has gotten all the attention and hand-wringing, but I think that the change from “Do you submit to Christ as Lord” to “And put your trust in him?” is sort of bigger, and the absence of “sin” is bigger still. “Sin,” however one understands it, clearly refers to our own actions. “Evil,” well, not so much. “Sin” is at least sort of defined from some sense of God’s law, some sense of His Kingdom. “Evil” can be almost anything.

One form of traditional Christian narrative (metanarrative? Do we still speak of metanarratives? I am so behind. If we do, can I has a metanarrative?) might be, “We are born into the kingdom of Satan and sin. Sin arises from listening to and acting upon the lies of the Father of Lies. To be freed of that grim kingdom and that heavy bondage, we must be born again in Jesus Christ, and the first step and first signifier of that rebirth, that change in allegiance, is baptism.”

So then I ask, what do we want to say to a bunch of people who only rarely come within range of a Christian voice? How do we, as His ambassadors, represent Jesus to them? Surely we find a way to tell the truth to them that does not set their teeth on edge. But remains true to the Truth. And the very first truth to bring home is that we are in pretty desperate straits, for which the only remedy is a new life in Jesus. Does the trial baptismal rite do this? I don’t think so. Is it better in any way than the rite in Common Worship? I doubt it. Is it more socially acceptable? Well, maybe by a little. Is being more socially acceptable a good thing? Probably not, in this case. The point should be to wake people up, not lull them. Is the uproar justified? Maybe. The alternative rite is only slightly more dilute than that in Common Worship.

 Posted by at 3:48 pm
Dec 312013

Good bye old year, you oaf

The year now ending has been more oafish than usual, and I shall view it’s departure without nostalgia or regret.

It is something of a fashion, in some places at least, to expect a certain cheeriness from Christians; I am not sure why, temperament and faith being somewhat different things. My own temperament is at least sober, though not melancholy, as regards human things, though I laugh often (who could not, when listening to one’s minute granddaughter play the role of the troll in The Three Billy Goats Gruff?). After all, this year has brought us further degeneration of American culture (e.g., Miley Cyrus, all things Kardashian, Peter Jackson’s version of The Hobbit. I shall refrain from mentioning Rachel Held Evans) and even more evidence that those who govern us wish to transform us all, every and every one, into mewling, sucking infants. Such islands of creativity and joy as exist seem apt to be flooded, rather like Atlantis. The forces of intolerant inclusion campaign to silence anyone, even elderly comedians, who might say something to distress them. We have come a long way from

sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me

and not a good way, not at all.

It isn’t a pretty picture. Someone really needs to speak up for the Christians of sober mien and grim aspect.

The poet goes on to say,

Every New Year is the direct descendant, isn’t it, of a long line of proven criminals?

Well, yes. To be sure. At the New Year we resolve to do better (or, in the case of some appalling folks I’ve heard of, we resolve that other folks will do better), though we know we probably won’t. I have books I would like to write, and to read; gardening I would like to do; weight I would like to read? Shall I? Perhaps, by God’s good grace and my own effort. One can only persevere.

So we hope, restrainedly, full of confidence in the Lord but doubt in ourselves, aware of the soft veto that the disinterested so often levy. We take a deep breath, and plunge.

Dec 242013

Christmas Eve. It’s been below zero all night, and snow is falling.  Today some folks will be  frantic; other, calm.  I’ve been withdrawing from “The Season’s” hurly-burly for some time.  There is, after all, no compulsion to lose your marbles. And because I have a granddaughter living with us, I would like her to have some sense of continuity.  And, to be sure, as Christians contemplate and consider life in a decreasingly “Christian” culture, it seems like a good idea to consider what a Christian Christmas might be in this age. I won’t try to answer that one.

I am think about my first Christmases.  Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were spent in my grandmother’s house; there’s a useful contrast to the modest of those efforts with the elaborate wishes of retailers today.

My parents lived some 45 minutes from my grandmother, a drive made mostly through farmland that has now mostly been eaten up by sprawl.  We left our home in midafternoon, arriving near twilight; that would be about 4:00. There were landmarks on the way: a high school on the highway, a gas station with an odd name and advertising “gas for less!”, an odd rambling junkyard of sorts, shoehorned between the highway and the Santa Fe embankment, the huge, magnificent, limestone High School where my aunt and her aunt taught, and lastly the clock in the yard of the funeral home across the street from my grandmother’s house.  It had neon light around the clock face. It is still there, or was was the last time I drove past a few years ago.

A word about the house. It was (for elaborate reasons not too important now) two self contained dwellings, with bedrooms and kitchens on both floors.  My great aunt lived on the ground floor, and her sister-in-law my grandmother and two of her children lived upstairs. My grandmother’s own mother also lived there, on the first floor, in a room that had been my great-grandfather’s office and consulting room.  She was bed-ridden and to silent, a mystery to my sister and I (my brother was born a few years later).  This was probably the best arrangement for them.

After the busyness of arriving, Christmas Eve ran precisely. My sister and I sat down to an early dinner at a card table in my great aunt’s “front parlor,” a shabby room that housed her African Violet collection and a huge upright piano.  There was a Christmas Tree in the corner, and a few chairs that I doubt anyone ever sat in.

Dinner was the same every year; fried chicken, baked spaghetti, potato chips, green olives. The grown ups had the same dinner a few hours later, adding only pickled herring that my great aunt loved.  My mother’s sister was detailed to keep us company. After dinner, we were rushed up to my grandmother’s room where we would sleep.  Every year a new pair of pajamas waited for us, the first of our Christmas presents; for me, flannel pajamas that were profoundly itchy.  I’m pretty sure they were in the tell-tale Marshall Field box.

After putting them on, we were rushed downstairs to hang our Christmas stockings in my great-aunt’s back parlor – this was the important one, where she kept her writing desk and books, and for all purposes lived during the day.  It overlooked an immense garden that sloped down to another street and some train tracks.

The stockings were plain flannel, with our names embroidered by my great aunt, and would be mysteriously filled with whole walnuts, oranges, bags of chocolate money, and peppermint cigarettes on Christmas morning.     We were then bundled off to bed. By 6:30.  The older folks had a party to enjoy. A party we could hear all the way upstairs, around several corners, and through several closed doors.  Those parties must have been something.  My great aunt was tea total (though I believe the punch – mostly ginger ale with orange sherbet melting in it – got spiked by my father or uncle once or twice), so the fuel for the party was mostly high spirits, I guess.  They finished the wrapping and trimmed the tree in the back parlor – my great aunt bought balsam, my grandmother scotch pine -and opened their gifts to one another. They raised quite a ruckus.

There are two striking aspects here. The efforts were simple, without elaborate food preparation (and the stress and crabbiness that can accompany an elaborate meal). It isn’t so much that no one wore themselves out – I think they did – but that effort went to other efforts.  They made no effort to impress each other, but certainly made a huge effort of simple hospitality.

The second aspect is the complete absence of religious observation.  My grandmother and great aunt avoided so much as the shadow of a church for as long as I knew them.  I don’t know if my aunt was a regular churchgoer at this point of her life; she was a few years later after the family had abandoned this house and moved into one easier to maintain.

At some point – probably not nearly so late as it felt to us – my sister and I drifted off to sleep, and woke very early.  The grown ups were very hard to rouse.  But that’s another tale.

 Posted by at 6:47 am
Dec 142013

And I shall, and avoid the next part of Peter Jackson’s version of The Hobbit.  Jackson’s sensibility, never very harmonious with Tolkien’s, has been set free by box office success to run amok.  Tolkien’s modest children’s book was little more than a draft or plot summary for Part I. So I shall not contribute to the box office numbers of this round. I won’t be missed, and I don’t need the popcorn.

It is interesting to speculate (and perhaps someone has done this work. If so, and if my reader knows of it, leave a comment) the differing perceptions of those whose first encounter with Tolkien’s work has been through the texts, and those whose first encounter has been through the lens of Jackson’s work. How do movie-first readers perceive the books? What do they find difficult or unsatisfying? What do they find more interesting than the movie version? If our culture is ever more visually dominated, what is lost when text becomes secondary to image? Those who for decades had only the text, were free to create their own images, and change them at will; Jackson’s work collapses the probability function, as it were, crystallizing Legolas into Orlando Bloom.  Can that mold be broken?  Hm.

 Posted by at 6:38 am