Jul 282014

It seems that a lot of folks are not too happy with the President.  His tendency to try to rule by decree (they’re called “Executive Orders” now), his reluctance to actual deal with Congress (part of the job), and his deer-in-the-headlights approach to foreign affairs (hint:  Vladimir Putin is NOT AN AMERICAN “PROGRESSIVE.”  No sir, not one bit) seems to be wearing folks down.  All of this was utterly predictable.  The President’s political background is entirely within the strange world of the Illinois Democratic Party, and specifically Chicago, where the Mayor rules, the City Council approves, and everyone shares the moola.  As a state senator, his job was to do what he was told, which he did quite well.  It’s not a world where one has to engage other powerful leaders, negotiate, listen, and compromise.  Lousy training for the Presidency.

 Posted by at 7:13 am
Apr 302014

I am sitting at my writing station, looking toward the garage over a long bed full of daffodils.  I look east, where the sun in rising.  It’s a golden sunrise, pouring through bands of grey clouds touched with cream on their eastern edges.  Overhead, the clouds are solid, but rough-bottomed, the lower ruffles variously cream and very faint pink.  We are still mostly leafless; the trees are weeks behind the norm.

After the snow melted, after the air had begun to warm, I feared I had lost as many as 17  roses to the bitter winter, even the 23 year old Constance Spry at one corner of the house, an immense rose – even the unkillable Dr. Van Fleet that came as a cutting from my father-in-law.  The roses had not only the bitter cold and the three months of snow cover to deal with, but also rabbitty predations, with bark stripped up to three feet above ground level.  But now, life seems to be creeping back into some of those dead canes.  The mortality is still considerable, but I’ll take my time uprooting the losses.  Where buds start on the old canes, I’ll prune back and suppresses bloom this year – no matter what happens, it won’t be a very rosy summer.

The mortality amongst the herby perennials is harder to guess.  The clematis seems gone.  The peonies were reluctant to start but are moving right along now.  Some of the hosta have vanished, simply vanished, and in others the center of the root mass seems to have died but left behind the orbiting daughters.  Even in the depths of winter dormancy, I believe, there is a certain amount of sleepy metabolism that goes on below ground.  I suspect that the icy conditions reduced the oxygen exchange down at ground level, but maybe I’m guessing through my hat.  I’ve been thinking of converting the garden to daylilies, coneflower, phlox, and carefully selected hardy roses, maybe concentrating on the wonderful Griffith Buck roses that need little care beyond food.  The coneflowers don’t seem to have made it, though.  Gonna be a slow replanting.

 Posted by at 8:05 am
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