Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Anglican Catechism in Outline: The Not-So-Good (Part 2)

Concluding my comments on "Anglican Catechism in Outline (ACIO): The Interim Report of the Global South Theological Formation and Education Task Force," I continue with my comments on the Commentaries:

I find equal reason for concern in Dr. Toon's discussion of historic Anglican formularies. These are, of course, the Articles of Religion (the 39 Articles), the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal (the orders for ordaining bishops, priests, and deacons, first published in 1550). He begins with a review of the place of the Anglican Formularies in the history of the Anglican tradition. However, he emphasizes the Evangelical aspect of Anglicanism, as if the Catholic aspect of Anglicanism were beneath mention. In addition, he assumes the beliefs and practices of the Church of England to be normative for all of the Communion. So, he does not show any awareness of those provinces that were not part of the Empire or the Commonwealth, and so have a relationship with the Formularies that may be somewhat different.

Dr. Toon's discussion of the Articles of Religion certainly emphasizes its reflection of the Reformation tradition. He makes some reference to the 42 Articles as predecessor to the 39 Articles. In emphasizing the Reformation heritage, however, he makes no reference to earlier formulations written during Henry's reign. His description of the Articles and Cranmer's authorship makes no mention of the various sources on which Cranmer drew. Arguably, there are Articles reflecting Lutheran, Reformed (Genevan), or Roman traditions, and some that are distinctively Anglican. In appreciating the richness of our tradition and our place as neither Puritan (per Hooker) nor Roman (per Jewell), these various sources have emphasized our connections with other Christians across a broad spectrum.

Dr. Toon makes this comment on the place of the Articles in the Anglican tradition.

The Church of England and other Anglican churches are not confessional churches in the same sense that Lutheran and reformed churches claim to be; yet dogma and doctrine are important. Thus the Articles are best seen not merely as a sixteenth-century signpost pointing in which direction the church ought doctrinally to go, but also as a lens in the telescope (along with the lenses of the earlier catholic creeds) by which members receive or see the Christian doctrinal tradition in which they are placed. In this sense the Articles can never be revised.

This certainly interesting in suggesting, first, that there is some sense in which the Anglican churches are "confessional," and, second that the Articles are in some sense on par with the historic Creeds. It is also interesting in expressing the opinion that “the Articles can never be revised.” In fact the Articles have been revised regarding the Athanasian Creed (Article VIII), the “will of princes” to call “General Councils” (Article XXI), sufficiency of the 1550 Ordinal (Article XXXVI, at least in the Episcopal Church), and “the King’s Majesty” (Article XXXVII).

Dr. Toon's discussion of the Book of Common Prayer is equally focused on the practice of the Church of England. The section is essentially regretful and at times polemic in tone. He begins,

Not long ago, Anglicans around the world all knew what was The Book of Common Prayer.... It was a specific prayer book in which were a collection of services of worship and it took one of three possible forms: (i) The English Book of Common Prayer dated 1662; (ii) a local edited form of this for use in a particular Province such as Canada or the United States of America or Ireland or Scotland; and (iii) a translation of all or part of the English edition of 1662 for use by non-English speaking Anglican Churches.

Dr. Toon’s appreciation of the 1662 Prayer Book is well known. He has recently drafted a contemporary-language version of the Rite of Holy Communion based on the 1662 Book. At the same time, his distaste for the recent developments is clear.

In the twenty-first century, the situation is far less clear; in fact, it is very confused. Regrettably, since the late 1970’s the title, “The Book of Common Prayer,” has been used for another type of Anglican Prayer Book developed in the West after the 1960s in light of “liturgical renewal,” and the general desire for variety and choice.

Thus, “An Alternative Service Book... was intended not to replace but to provide alternative forms of service to The Book of Common Prayer (1662).” This was apparently unfortunate, but only preceded something even worse:

However, The Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. set a new trend for Anglicans by calling its own new 1979 prayer book of varied services not by the title of “An Alternative Service Book” but by the ancient title of “The Book of Common Prayer”. Some other Anglican provinces follow this unfortunate lead. Thus the title “Book of Common Prayer” no longer has a “common” meaning and there is no one “common” Formulary or standard of doctrine any more by this title! Thousands have been confused by this development.

In making clear his revulsion at revision, Dr. Toon overlooks several important facts. The first is that American Books of Common Prayer from the beginning have owed as much or more to pre-1662 rites of the Scottish Episcopal Church as to the English 1662 Book, consistencies of language notwithstanding. This would then also be true of those Anglican provinces evangelized primarily by the Episcopal Church (for example, in Central America and in the Philippines). In addition, he implicitly rejects the value of common English texts in pursuing ecumenical efforts, and so unity of worship, if not of institution, beyond the Anglican Communion through the Body of Christ. Ultimately, in rejecting the product, he rejects the method of liturgical renewal, despite its consistency with Cranmer’s own process: to understand Christian worship in the earliest available sources, and so better reflect the faith and practice of the Early and Patristic Church.

Dr. Toon completes his discussion of Anglican Formularies with a discussion of the Ordinal, or “The Form and Manner of Making, Ordaining and Consecrating Bishops, Priests, and Deacons.” Dr. Toon says almost as much of consequence about the Ordinal in his opening review as he does in this specific question. He notes the retention of the “traditional episcopate and ministry,” without any reference to that as evidence of maintaining Catholic heritage. Nor does he make any comments on the theology and role of the three orders of ministry. The distinctions noted in the full title of the Ordinal of “Making, Ordaining and Consecrating” would seem an opportunity to do so. He does spend a significant effort on noting that “Deacons, priests and bishops are called to set godly and holy examples of the dedicated, consecrated and sanctified life.” The example he chooses is to quote at length the relevant canon of the Church of England.

In many ways, Dr. Toon’s paper seems at odds with the Task Force's decision for the catechetical framework to “[hold] back from addressing the issues that immediately challenge the Communion at present” so that the Anglican Catechism in Outline might be “for the Communion and [looking] towards its future.” Dr. Toon’s rejection of liturgical traditions within Anglicanism other than the 1662 Prayer Book (especially with specific rejection of the liturgies of the Episcopal Church) and his focus in discussing the Ordinal not for the faith it proclaims but with concern for the moral life of the ordained seems pointedly to address current issues within the Communion. Indeed, while interpretation of Scripture is an issue in the Communion, Professor O’Donovan’s contribution is still not nearly so pointed. Dr. Toon has presented information less on the Anglican Formularies per se and why they might be considered authoritative, and more on those aspects of living with the Formularies in which Dr. Toon believes some, and especially the Episcopal Church, have failed. He limits his perspective to the experiences of Anglicans within the Empire and subsequent Commonwealth, and so to a large extent to the experience of the Church of England. Indeed, the image he uses in his Conclusion only cements this impression.

Perhaps the illustration of the old fashioned wheel with its hub at the centre, its spokes going out from the centre and ending at the circular rim will help. Commitment to the formularies is to be fastened securely tot he hub and not to go past the rim in order to preserve unity in comprehensiveness. Too often Anglicans take their spokes as it were through the rim and out into no-man’s land when they major on secondary matters, of matters which belong to other traditions.

Dr. Toon’s image seems to reflect a rigidity within the tradition that is more Roman than Anglican. I appreciate that this clearly speaks of limits. However, I fear that it doesn’t represent the breadth and variety within the tradition, not only at present, but in its history.

Perhaps there is not as great a need to think through the Commentaries in the Interim Report as to think through the Anglican Catechism in Outline. After all, they are attachments and not part of the catechetical framework itself. At the same time, inclusion of the Commentaries speaks of the interests and concerns of the Committee. I have said that the catechetical framework could indeed by useful across the Communion, as the Committee has suggested. If these Commentaries were incorporated, or included as interpretive of the catechetical framework, that usefulness would be significantly hindered. These Commentaries over all do not reflect the breadth and the blessed diversity within the Communion. As a result, they undermine the catechetical process they presumably hope to support; and that is very sad indeed.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Anglican Catechism in Outline: The Not-so-Good (Part 1)

I had hoped to get this all into one post. There's just too much....

Having shared what I like about the Anglican Catechism in Outline, let me share some thoughts about other sections of the Interim Report.

The largest section of the Interim Report is titled "Illustrations," and includes four case studies describing educational programs in several areas in the Global South (two in Nigeria and one each in Singapore and Uganda), describing work in varied settings. The reports are detailed and well written, and would, I think, be thought provoking for educators across the Communion. In contrast, the shortest section consists of two Appendices: one on the background of the Catechism of the 1662 Prayer Book, and one on the Revised Common Lectionary.

The section of the Interim Report of greatest concern to me is that titled "Commentary." It includes three papers: "The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture," by Professor Oliver O'Donovan of the University of Edinburgh; "The Creeds," by Bishop Paul Barnett, retired of Sydney; and"The Historic Formularies," by Peter Toon, President of the Prayer Book Society of the U.S.A.

Let me begin by stating that I quite like Bishop Barnett's paper on the Creeds. He focuses on the development of the Creeds as tools for evangelism and for catechesis of those to be baptized. He addresses the histories of the Apostles and Nicene Creeds, and some of the significant heretical movements that by reaction helped shaped them in ecumenical counsels. He speaks to functions of the Creeds, and ties them specifically to efforts at catechesis.

This is not to say that I have no questions about Bishop Barnett's paper. He leans heavily on the Vincentian Canon for his description of the catholic faith, and I question how accurate it was, even when Vincent wrote, to speak of "that which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all." He is also intent right from the beginning to address heresy, something I might have put in the context of the Councils. On the other hand, his emphasis on private judgment as opposed to the reflection of the Church gathered is certainly appropriate. These are quibbles about what is a good paper.

I have somewhat greater concern about Professor O'Donovan's paper on Scripture. His first concern in discussing the authority of Scripture is to describe its election and its perfection. "Scripture is "elect", as Israel and Jesus are elect, to serve the same plan of salvation. It is human writing set apart from every other human writing to serve a function in the saving purposes of God." Initially he distinguishes "God's own self-election" in Jesus from "the election of the Scriptures [as] an act of divine speech." However, he goes on to say,

It is right, nevertheless, that Holy Scripture, in bearing witness to God's deed of salvation, is nothing less than God's own witness to himself. Scripture does not come after what God has said and done, as a kind of secondary report of it or reflection on it. In reading Holy Scripture we hear God's own voice speaking, while at the same time we hear the voice of human authors. These voices, divine and human, bear witness to God's work, and they agree.... The temptation in recent generations has, of course, been to ascribe the task oft witness exclusively to the human voice, so opening up a gap between God's words, on the one hand, and the human account of them, on the other.

While he does not say so explicitly, this would seem to leave little room for any other than a literalist approach to Scripture. This is only reinforced by Professor O'Donovan's equally detailed discussion of the perfection of Scripture. The perfection , like the election, of Scripture "lies in the unique place their [the Biblical authors'] writings were assigned in the redemptive purpose of God."

The perfection of the Holy Scripture is of its own kind, and may allow space for various supposed imperfections that are not relevant to the fulfillment of the purpose in hand.... Neither does the perfection of historical records [in Scripture] consist in their being the most perfectly researched historiography, or the most impartial first-hand sources. The best term with which to express the perfection of Scripture is, perhaps, that used by John Wyclif, when he spoke of Holy Scripture as being "incorrigible." That is to say simply that no interpreter of Scripture can venture or presume to set it right, either by excision, by correction, by privileging a canon within the canon, or by assigning certain ideas to primitive ignorance and other to the Spirit of God, etc. etc.

Thus, we are left with a position that is explicitly inerrantist and implicitly literalist. Scripture, as all agree, brings its interpretation to Tradition and Reason; but Tradition and Reason have nothing to bring to Scripture. I grant that this is "an historically recognized position" (to recall both that unfortunate phrase and its equally unfortunate consequences) within the Anglican tradition; but I would question whether it reflects the breadth of perspectives within the tradition.

I do appreciate Professor O'Donovan's insistence that education in the Scriptures is "a key task of catachesis," and that "in particular it is the foundational act of liturgy, by which every part of common worship - petitionary prayer, praise and sacramental act - is authorized."

He also speaks of "interpretation.... [which] begins in the pulpit." At the same time, the parameters of that interpretation are clearly circumscribed: "It is not a negotiation aimed at striking a compromise between the expectations of the text and the presuppositions of our time; nor can it presume, in the name of whatever cause, to read "against the grain" of the text." So one must ask what place Biblical criticism, and even Biblical archaeology, might have in preaching or instructing the faithful.

More to come.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Anglican Catechism in Outline: The Good

I have taken time this weekend to look at the Anglican Catechism in Outline (ACIO). It is included in the Interim Report of the The Global South Anglican (GSA) Theological Formation and Education Task Force. The full report also includes several commentaries, appendices and reports, some of which I will comment on separately.

I will admit that when I first heard that this was coming, I was concerned. I was concerned because the first notice was the announcement that a Preliminary Report had been approved by Global South Primates in Kigali; and some of them at least are much more evangelical than I, and than the majority of Episcopalians. However, in fact I was pleased and impressed with ACIO. I think this could indeed be used with some adaptation to local circumstances.

Let me comment on some things that I appreciate about ACIO. To begin with, I appreciate that the Committee produced a “framework,” and not a detailed catechism. It is, if you will, a "rich outline," with some detail on most topics. That allows the necessary flexibility in setting and design of educational method. As the Task Force authors wrote,

At the same time, communicating Christianity well requires sensitive understanding of the particular missionary situations. Provinces are in better positions to attend to such tasks. Provinces should also make every effort to understand the social contexts of their mission. They need to teach the Christian faith in creative ways, drawing out its implications and communicating it in languages that are accessible to the laity in general. Therefore different provinces should find suitable ways to implement the recommendations.

I appreciate the Committee's comments on the importance of catechesis. Over the years I've served as a supply priest in many congregations. I've been surprised and saddened over the years at the number that appeared to have no organized educational activities at all. I would note, too, that the Task Force is even handed in emphasizing the need, not singling out one province or even one area of the Communion: “Anglicans often remain biblically illiterate and uninformed about their particular faith traditions. At the same time, radical reinterpretation of the Christian faith and morals are taking place both in the Southern Hemisphere and in the Northern Hemisphere where Christianity has historically been a dominant presence.”

The “framework” itself is laid out in the Report in a section titled “Key Recommendations.” The recommendations are centered around three questions:

A. What is the content of the catechesis?
B. What infrastructures should be in place?
C. Where and when catechetical processes take place? [sic]

It was in the first section on Content that I anticipated the most concern. I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised. It is only six pages (pages 10-15 of the Interim Report), and it’s well worth the few minutes it takes to read.

The framework organizes the content under the categories of Faith, Hope, and Love. Under these categories it outlines expositions of the Creeds, the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Summary of the Law. It seems sufficiently thorough, and is punctuated with illustrative scripture citations. It includes opportunities to discuss current issues, without speaking specifically to the issues that we are currently struggling with. Task Force members have made a concerted effort to produce a work “for the whole Communion and [looking] towards its longer-term future” and “for each and every diocese in the Communion.”

This is not to say that there aren’t aspects of the interpretations within the framework with which I would take issue. This is certainly in the evangelical perspective within the Anglican tradition. For example, the sacraments are mentioned within the exposition of the section of the Creed devoted to the action of the Holy Spirit, with no further interpretation. The first topic cited under “Interpersonal character of social existence” is “Christian understanding of marriage,” and the Scripture citations with regard to family are from Paul, and do not include Jesus’ statements that faith will divide families or redefine them (“Those who do the will of my Father are my mother and brothers and sisters.”). There is a distinct tone of reflective of Niebuhr's categories of "Christ against culture," or even "Christ and culture in paradox," instead of "Christ transforming culture," more common in the Episcopal Church. At the same time, there is a good deal more interpretation included regarding “Treatment in divine authorization of secular government” than would be comfortable for Americans (To quote: “Government under and through law is God’s will for the earthly protection of all people.”), and three full paragraphs of interpretation on this when there is only the barest reference to sacraments seems out of balance. Still, these are aspects of the interpretation within this “rich outline,” and do not invalidate the framework in general. These are simply areas for the adaptation I referred to above.

The section on infrastructures is also interesting. It does “affirm the central role of bishops as chief pastors and teachers in their dioceses,” something that I fear would be interpreted differently in different provinces. It also encourages rethinking “the purposes and methodologies of theological education, specifically that it become more connected to the catechetical work at the congregational level.” There is also a footnote promising “a fuller recommendation on theological education (in relation to catechetical responsibility) in the Final Report.” This highlights a tension that has long obtained in the Church as to whether the seminaries best serve the Church in forming students by reinforcing the core or by pressing the boundaries. The report notes that,

The clergy must be ready to think theologically for themselves, and not only say just what their congregations (of bishops!) are expecting. All of them have to be able to go on thinking and preaching faithfully to the Gospel, for perhaps forty years after they leave college. Some of them will have to take the lead in criticizing and interpreting movements of thought that have not yet even come on the horizon. And they have to be able to resource the theological needs of tomorrow’s church. (Emphasis in the original)

The discussion of where and when catechetical processes take place is also interesting. Notwithstanding the brief reference to the sacraments in the section on Content, this section emphasizes heavily the role of worship in catechesis. There is encouragement to celebration of feast days to help “churches to recover a historical understanding of their faith.” There is discussion of the use of the Lectionary for teaching, and of the possibility of sequential and thematic sermons for their educational value. This is somewhat confused by suggestion that a “parallel calendar” with an “optional parallel Lectionary” to support that purpose; but that may speak to provinces that have not moved from a one-year to a three-year Lectionary cycle and/or provinces with no equivalent to the Episcopal Church’s Lesser Feasts and Fasts.

Even with the sections on infrastructures and settings for catechesis, the Key Recommendations section of this report is only eleven pages, and well worth reading and study. As I said, I expected to be unhappy with this framework for catechesis, only to be pleasantly surprised when I was able to read it. I certainly agree that education in the Christian faith and life is a critical responsibility in the Church, and one recognized all too often in the breach rather than in the observance. This Anglican Catechism in Outline is worth time and study. I think it can be a worthwhile contribution to education planning throughout the Church; and perhaps if we on the “Global North” side of the current difficulties can appreciate its intent and value, this contribution from the “Global South” can be a point of connection and shared mission in a time when disconnection and division seem unchallenged.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

I've Been Tagged! A Book Meme

Jason over at Gower Street has tagged me.  What fun!  This is the first time anyone has tagged me!

So, here's how it works:

1.  Pick up the nearest book of 123 pages or more.
2. Find page 123.
3. Find the first five sentences.
4. Post the next three sentences.

I first read this at the office, but declined to play there.  The nearest book was the Journal of the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, and I wouldn't want to impose that on anyone, whatever might be on page 123.  But now I'm  home.  So.

Let's see: the nearest book of 123 pages or more.  It's The Dynamics of Grief by David K. Switzer. 

So, now to page 123: it's in chapter 5, "Guilt, Hostility, and Grief;" and in a section on Paul Tillich.

So, now, past sentences 1 through 5 to reach sentences 6 through 8.  They read as follows:

When the person becomes aware of the ambiguity of his own actions, it is subjectively experienced as guilt, and it is present every moment.  The realization of one's own acts towards self-negation drives one toward self-rejection, "the despair of having lost our destiny."  This guilt is one of the three major forms of anxiety in which nonbeing threatens being, by threatening man's moral self-affirmation, relatively in terms of guilt and absolutely in terms of condemnation."

(The included quote, by the way, is from Tillich's The Courage to Be.)

I was interested to see what would be "closest."  Almost the same distance were Diarmaid MacCulloch's Thomas Cranmer and Bishop Moorman's A History of the Church in England.  This is not evidence of the quality of my personal library as it is of the messiness of it.

Now, who should I share this with?  Who would have the appropriate love of books?

How about Susan, Derek, and the Feminarian, whom I do try to check in on periodically?  I hope they find it interesting.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Another Draft: a Little Surgery?

Another reflection on the St. Andrew’s Draft Anglican Covenant – or more specifically, on the Appendix. Others have written generally on shortcomings of the St. Andrew’s Draft, and especially of the Appendix (most recently this piece at Episcopal Cafe).

The title of the Appendix is “Framework Procedures for the Resolution of Covenant Disagreements.” For many who thought a Covenant a good idea, this was the whole point: to structure a way of addressing, and actually reaching resolution on difficult issues (and, sadly, often the hope for resolution was regardless of whether that might mean reconciliation). At the same time, this Appendix lays out a confusing “framework,” within which procedures aren’t a whole lot more organized than they’ve been with no Covenant in place.

One point in the Appendix struck me as interesting, and as particularly important for the Episcopal Church. The Appendix offers four “Routes” for addressing issues between provinces, and my concern is in the first:

4. Route 1: A Request of the Archbishop of Canterbury

4.1. When the Archbishop of Canterbury makes a request to a [national] Church, that Church must within six months of receiving it (a) accept the request or (b) reject the request. The absence of a response will be considered as a rejection.

4.2. If a Church rejects the request, that Church may within three months of rejecting the request appeal against it to the Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates. The Church may appeal when it considers that there has been no threat to the unity or mission of the Communion.

4.3. On appeal, and within three months, the Joint Standing Committee must decide whether there has been a threat to the unity or mission of the Communion.

4.4. If the appeal is successful, the Joint Standing Committee shall certify immediately that the matter is closed subject to Articles 3.2.1, 3.2.4 and 3.2.5b of the Covenant.

4.5. If the appeal is lost, the Archbishop shall submit the request, rejection and appeal decision to the Anglican Consultative Council which shall deal with the matter in accordance with Paragraph 8.

What strikes me about this “route” is the time frames, especially in clauses 4.1 and 4.2. I’m sure for many six months might seem adequate time. However, our recent practice has made that problematic. Consider: recent statements from Primates Meetings were addressed to the House of Bishops, who insisted that full responses had to come from General Convention, and so their ability as a House to respond was limited. This was clear after the meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, when the bishops held not only that their ability to respond was limited, but also that their limited response could only come in their September meeting, more than six months after the “request” from the Primates. The Executive Council, the continuing executive body between triennial General Conventions also met, and also affirmed that a true “response” would have to come from General Convention. Indeed, many statements were made that “primacy” in the Episcopal Church resides in General Convention, and so the ability of even the Presiding Bishop to act was limited. (Heck, there’s not even consensus as to whether the Presiding Bishop has authority, much less how much, to help the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin reorganize.)

So, with this established precedent, just how would the Episcopal Church “respond to the Archbishop” within six months? And remember that, “The absence of a response will be considered as a rejection.” How would we even act within nine months so as to request some sort of “appeal” or review from the Joint Standing Committee? Perhaps a special Convention could be convened; but that kind of trouble and expense would seem appropriate only in the most dire of circumstances. What would we do with a problem that was meaningful, but only sort of?

This is, really, a situation we have created for ourselves. We have insisted (and both as a blogger and a Deputy to the 2009 Convention, I have to include myself) that authority and primacy resides with the General Convention; but it’s hard to imagine a response within six months from a group that only meets every three years. The necessary response would be for us to clarify within our own Constitution and Canons how authority would be exercised between General Conventions. I’m not sure what I would want that to look like, and I imagine I am not alone in that.

Now, in one sense this isn’t “urgent.” Between the time needed to come to a final Draft and the time needed for the “constitutional processes of each national Church” to accomplish reception, I can’t imagine we’d actually be looking at a Draft in General Convention before 2012. I know some would hope that this issue would just go away before then; or if it didn’t, the Draft that finally came would have experienced an “appendectomy” (sorry, but I’m a hospital chaplain; I couldn’t resist) so that this “framework” or any much like it was gone.

I think, though, that those who suggested these time frames were quite conscious of how we in the Episcopal Church reacted after Dar es Salaam. We weren’t able to “respond” within six months, or even nine, with the established authority of General Convention. Granted, those most at odds with the Episcopal Church haven’t been (and presumably won’t be) interested in any response that wasn’t immediate and conforming, However, we can predict that there will be issues between provinces – after all, there are human beings involved – and there may be future “requests” for response within a given time. If a framework for resolving such issues is ultimately proposed, timing is something we’ll need to be thoughtful about. After all, sometimes timing is everything.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Another Draft, Another (Quadrilateral) Problem

All right, I’ve been mulling it over, and I need to comment on the St. Andrew’s Draft of the Anglican Covenant. It’s not an extensive analysis. Rather, I’m noting something in the draft that trouble me. (Sure, I’d like to do more detailed analysis, and even to compare it to the Nassau Draft; but it’s just been too busy a week.)

My concern is in the first section:

1.1 Each Church of the Communion affirms:
(1.1.1) its communion in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, worshipping the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit;
(1.1.2) that, reliant on the Holy Spirit, it professes the faith which is uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as containing all things necessary for salvation and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith, and which is set forth in the catholic creeds, and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear significant witness, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation;
(1.1.3) that it holds and duly administers the two sacraments ordained by Christ himself – Baptism and the Supper of the Lord – ministered with the unfailing use of Christ’s words of institution, and of the elements ordained by him;
(1.1.4) that it upholds the historic episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of his Church;
(1.1.5) that our shared patterns of common prayer and liturgy form, sustain and nourish our worship of God and our faith and life together;
(1.1.6) that it participates in the apostolic mission of the whole people of God, and that this mission is shared with other Churches and traditions beyond this Covenant.

Now, this is intended to incorporate the language of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. That was where I found a problem with the first draft. The Nassau Draft separated the Quadrilateral’s reference to the historic episcopate to its own section of the Draft. In doing so, the Drafting Committee significantly elevated the authority of bishops beyond that established for bishops in the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church.

Well, the Committee corrected that, reintegrating the language on the episcopate in roughly the form in the Quadrilateral. Unfortunately, at the same time they lost the language related to the historic creeds. Note section 1.1.1: in it the historic creeds are essentially subsidiary to Scripture. The Quadrilateral, as accepted by Lambeth in 1888, affirmed, “The Apostles’ Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.” That more accurately, I think, reflects the place of the Creeds in the life of the Church. Moreover, while we would want to affirm scriptural support for everything in the Creeds, they represent more, both in their history and in their use, than comments for a Bible study. Rather, they are evidence of the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church, continuing to unfold the meaning of Christ’s work in the Church and the world.

We have commonly spoken in the Episcopal Church and of the Anglican tradition as being a “creedal,”, as opposed to a curial or a confessional. We have said this, I think, because we have seen the Creeds as summaries of the faith, drawn from Scripture, but also reflecting the Spirit’s guidance in understanding meaning and implication well beyond what is explicit in the text. If we are to continue to see ourselves as “creedal,” we cannot accept a statement that appears to diminish the integrity of the Creeds as evidence of God’s continuing guidance, and in that sense “revelatory” (evidence of revelation) in their own right.

There are those who would like to stick simply to the language of the Quadrilateral as the content of an Anglican covenant. The problem with that is the intent of the Quadrilateral. It was not intended to define what is “Anglican.” It was intended to describe “Christian,” or at least sufficiently to allow us to engage in ecumenical relations. As such, it is too basic to form an Anglican covenant by itself: there’s not really anything distinctively Anglican about it.

At the same time, if this is the way we have described the characteristics of Christian bodies, I wonder how far we can alter the characteristics, their descriptions, and their relationships without literally changing how we understand our own Christian body. If we by into a different description, we’re changing what it means for us to be Christian, prior to any explication of what it means to be Anglican. That doesn’t seem to trouble the Covenant Design Group; but it certainly troubles me.

Once Again at the Episcopal Cafe

Once again, I have a post up at Episcopal Cafe. I hope you'll take the time to read it, and the many other interesting and wonderful things posted there.

Monday, February 04, 2008

High Hopes and Hard Choices

This story was published this Saturday in The Kansas City Star. It’s an interesting human-interest story. A baby has a debilitating genetic disorder that would in the normal course of things lead to discomfort and disability, and ultimately to death at a young age. He is being treated with a drug known in older children to relieve symptoms and slow progression of the disease. He is the youngest person ever to be treated, and the whole world, or at least the world of those who live with and those who treat his rare condition, it watching. The hope is that starting treatment earlier will prevent progression of the disease in the first place.

Many people are certainly hopeful. However, there is an ethical issue in this, one that, while not our favorite thing to talk about, won’t go away. It is this: the drug, received weekly through intravenous infusions, costs about $300,000 a year for each child treated. The child can expect to receive this treatment indefinitely. Now, this child’s family has insurance – apparently good insurance – and it appears the treatment is actually covered.

At the same time, $300,000 a year is a lot of money. Even with good insurance, the copays on that have to add up. In addition, most insurance programs I’ve experienced have a maximum lifetime expense. At that rate, we could worry about hitting that maximum pretty quickly.

And we are all paying. Like all other businesses, insurance companies raise their charges to cover losses. So, everyone with that company is paying some small increase – negligible, but still there – to cover this child’s treatment. And of course other companies are watching. I wouldn’t suggest their colluding. I would suggest they’re thinking in this case and/or cases like it what they would need to charge to cover such losses; and so all our premiums go up.

We’re also paying in another, more serious way. Money is fungible, but it’s not unlimited. That is, money spent one place isn’t there to spend somewhere else.

Not quite 30 years ago now I was in my first CPE residency in a pediatric referral hospital. While I was there, a boy was discharged from the intensive care unit. He had lived there from a few hours after his birth until just after his fourth birthday. He had an incomplete airway that required a tracheotomy and a ventilator; and he was only able to leave the hospital now because the portable ventilator had just been invented. We’re used these days to seeing folks almost everywhere with their small oxygen bottles. But in the spring of 1981 they were brand new.

The Pastoral Care Department sat together at the end of the day, a day or two after his discharge. The Director spoke about it: “This child was sent home today after living for four years in the intensive care unit of the hospital. Each of those four years the hospital wrote off $250,000. That was after all that the parents’ insurance could pay, and then after what they could pay, and then what Medicaid could pay: $250,000 a year. No one wants to put a price on that child’s life. At the same time, how many other children could the hospital have treated in those four years with $1,000,000?”

Now, I suppose in real terms $300,000 in 2008 isn’t near as big in purchasing power as $250,000 in 1980. At the same time, whether it’s a measure of what the insurer could do, or what the institution could do, how many children could be treated for $300,000 a year? If the treatment works, and he lives for decades, how many children could be treated?

I grant that with some conditions, proving this treatment works would eventually bring down the cost of the medication. If it works, it could serve lots of people, at least in theory. However, this child has a condition that affects only 1 in 100,000 births. Let’s do some math here: in 2002 there were just over 4,000,000 births. So, the condition this child has would have affected in that year about 40 children in the United States. I have written elsewhere about “orphan diseases,” those affecting so few patients that the medication is never profitable for the pharmaceutical companies, and so ultimately not produced, or produced only under special circumstances. I fear this would fall into that category. This is one I fear would not become cheaper, at least under the circumstances of our profit-driven pharmaceutical industry.

“We would not want to put a price on this child’s life,” as my supervisor said so long ago; but in fact we have. This child’s life is worth just over $300,000. And, in consequence, we have put prices on the lives of other children; because money we spend in one place we don’t have to spend in others. Money spent on this child we don’t have to spend on other patients, both children and adults, with conditions both rare and common.

While there are many issues I think would be significantly helped by universal access to tax-supported health care, this isn’t one of them. A major criticism in any discussion of universal access to health care has been, “You’re going to get into rationing care!” Well, in this care the concern is certainly apt. Since the money is not unlimited, there would be some decisions to be made, and as they inevitably came to apply to individual patients, those decisions would be hard to make and hard to bear.

But of course that ignores the fact that we ration care now. I have to wonder whether this child would be receiving this treatment if he were in a State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). I wonder whether he would be receiving it if his parents qualified for Medicaid. Since the article explicitly states they waited to learn about insurance coverage, I wonder whether he would be receiving it if his father were a carpenter or a plumber, working as a contractor, with no job-provided health insurance. We are already rationing care. We just don’t like to think about it.

But this child is being treated. These parents pursued this; and if he were my child, I can imagine I would, too. At the same time, he does highlight an issue in health care, one that won’t go away. Money is fungible, and that has a negative as well as a positive effect: money we spend in one place we don’t have to spend in another. We have put a price on this child’s life, and in consequence we have put prices on the lives and health of other children. For this child, for any child – virtually for any patient – we never want to say, “No.” But, for how long – for how many – can we say, “Yes?”

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Transfigured, not Transformed

In preparing for to preach this Sunday, the last Sunday after Epiphany, I’ve been intrigued by the word “transfigured.” That is, of course, because the Gospel lesson selected is the story of the Transfiguration, the experience of Peter, James, and John witnessing Jesus for a few moments fully reflecting the glory of God.

What struck me was to wonder about our use of the term “transfigure.” I wondered what was the difference between this term and the term “transform.” So, I went back to the Greek. Perhaps “transfigure” reflected a special, distinctive word.

Lo and behold, I was wrong. In fact, the word used in Matthew 17:2 was metamorphothe, from the same root as “metamorphosis.” In our current usage, I think in general that Greek word, the aorist passive of the verb, might indeed be as easily translated “transform” as “transfigure.” In fact, when I checked my Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich, they gave both translations.

We use the word "transfigured" instead of the word "transformed" to emphasize that this is still Jesus, and still identifiable as Jesus. That has been the interpretation of the Church from the earliest days. Indeed, Luke makes this clear. He's the one synoptic evangelist who doesn't use the word metamorphothe. He says, instead, “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.” It’s clear, too, from the Vulgate, and Latin translation of scripture. The Vulgate uses transfiguratus est (as opposed to transformatus est), emphasizing the difference. And, certainly, this isn’t like John's account of the garden, when Mary Magdalene didn't recognize Jesus. As best we can tell, Peter, James, and John were not confused. They knew it was Jesus. He looked different, but he was clearly him. He was "transfigured," not "transformed."

I was struck by the contrast with characters from Ovid’s “Metamorphosis.” In it characters are changed, not only in form, but in substance, in essence. Narcissus really becomes a flower. Arachne really becomes a spider. Scylla really becomes a seabird. Niobe really becomes a rock. That work, reflecting material common in the legends associated with the Greek pantheon, was completed about the same time Jesus was born. So, in the world around the earliest Christians this idea of metamorphosis was common. Metamorphosis didn’t just change what you looked like, but changed what you are. But the Church has always insisted that Jesus was not transformed, but transfigured.

What strikes me about that is that we sometimes hear about the "transformative power of the Gospel," and never about its "transfigurative power." I have long felt some concern about that. Those who use it most seem to have all too clear an idea what the believer is to be transformed into, without much sense that God may have a broader sense of the possibilities. In any case, they do seem committed to "transformation" rather than "transfiguration:" a change in who the person is instead of the same person fully reflecting the glory of God.

But Jesus was transfigured, not transformed. Yes, Peter, James, and John, as John would later write, did see “his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son;" but Jesus wasn't really changed. He was no more and no less divine because they beheld him in glory; and he was no more and no less human, either. We might say they saw “the real Jesus,” in seeing him as he could be seen in the Kingdom; but he was still the same Jesus they’d walked with up the mountain. He wasn’t somehow a different sort of being.

By the same token, living in the light of the Lord doesn't transform us, doesn't make us more or less human. However, it can transfigure us. Our appearance can be changed, before both God and human folk. We, too, can reflect the light, the glory of the Lord; and with time and discipline we can reflect that glory more brightly. We don’t expect to be fully transfigured until we meet again in the Kingdom; but in the meantime we can work on our own capacity to reflect the glory of God.

That's what Lent is about, in a way. Between Transfiguration, when three apostles catch a glimpse of Christ in glory, and Easter, when the whole community sees his resurrected glory, we get ready. We too glimpse the light of Christ's glory, and by discipline prepare for resurrection light. The discipline of Lent isn’t about reshaping us into someone, something different. It’s about buffing us, polishing us, so that the glory of Christ, already present in our lives, is more clearly reflected in the world around us.

Peter, James, and John went up the mountain with Jesus, and saw him transfigured. When they came down the mountain, he was the same Jesus; but they had seen him, literally, in a new light. We are called to reflect the presence of Christ within us. And we’re called to do that, not by becoming someone or something we are not already, but by allowing the light of Christ that shines on us to reflect from us out into a dark and weary world. Through this Lent, and through every day of our lives in Christ, let us pursue our own transfiguration, and in time the world will see us, literally, in a new light: for the same light that showed the glory of Christ on the mountain will show the glory of Christ in our lives, and the promise of the glory of Christ for the whole world.