Copyright © 2005
by the Fellowship of St. James.
All rights reserved.
GO HERE FOR THE NEWS:
Having mentioned in the next blog one parish priest's report on the big meeting of Episcopal conservatives, I should point you to the best source for information on the life and struggles of the Anglican Federation: the CaNN site.
One wishes these Episcopalians well, but in reading the reports I can't help noticing the contradiction in their own theology and wondering how long it will be before that contradiction begins to break down this movement.
One of their lay leaders invoked against the liberals -- the advocates of homosexuality -- St. Vincent of Lerins' definition of orthodox Christianity: that which is believed at all times and in all places by all Christians. This canon the sexual innovators have violated.
And of course they have. But as I have noted before, almost all these people, including that particular lay leader, advocate the ordination of women. Which radical innovation is as obvious a violation of St. Vincent's famous canon as the approval of homosexual acts.
As a matter of simple historical fact, you will not find any more belief in women's ordination than you find belief in the goodness of homosexuality, before 1970 or so. Even today the mass of Christians live in Churches that reject the innovation, and simply by contemporary numbers alone the innovation fails to satisfy St. Vincent's definition.
Logically, they have to abandon St. Vincent's canon and say "We know better now," and attribute their superior knowledge to the Holy Spirit or to the progress of human understanding. But if they do, they will have to show why the homosexualists don't know better now. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
This they can't do, so they just appropriate the authority of St. Vincent's canon and what they call orthodox Christianity, to which they are not entitled. I am sure they are very excited now, and I applaud their opposition to the homosexualist mainstream of their church, but whatever is not truly orthodox will not last.
I was talking to a pastor this evening, and he told a story which started us talking about how many people today, especially people under about 45, do not seem to undertand prudence. Unmarried couples, romantically involved, who intend to stay chaste, and spend the night in each other's homes, for example.
The prudent couple would not do this, because they would know that the arrangement encouraged them to greater intimacies than they wanted to enjoy. Boy, girl, guaranteed privacy, affection, romantic feelings, cosiness, affection, possible stimulation by tv or movie, affection, drowsiness, affection, more affection, yet more affection . . . and later "We didn't mean to." But for some reason many people do not understand this.
At a guess, I'd say such people neglect prudence for two reasons. First, they do not know, because their churches have not told them, how weak they can be, and how wicked they can be. In other words, they don't realize the danger.
Second, they have been formed by a society that teaches them that they can have it all. They don't need to restrain themselves. If they want to have intimacy and chastity, why, they can have it. In other words, they don't realize the danger.
After dinner, I started reading an Episcopal priest's report of the big meeting of conservative Episcopalians in Plano, Texas. He quoted a talk by a friend (he was a student at the seminary at which I served) named Mario Bergner, an associate in her healing ministry of Leanne Payne.
Mario runs an "ex-gay" ministry and wrote a helpful book titled Setting Love in Order: Hope and healing for the homosexual (Baker). Mario said, wrote the priest, that even when
you have given up the behavior [homosexual], most [homosexual people] never completely get rid of the desire. Mario said, "I will probably struggle with my desires for the rest of my life. I can’t surf the Internet. If I did, I would be led astray. I am locked out from our computers, and my wife and my secretary have the passwords. I can’t watch r-rated movies, and I can’t even watch TV. Why? Because I have boundaries. I have to have them."
There you have a voice of prudence, who gives up a lot of pleasures to protect himself from temptation. (Minor pleasures, admittedly, speaking as one who never watches televsion.) I honestly don't know how many people I know who are willing to draw some many lines to keep themselves from evil.
Speaking of things ecumenical (next blog), reader David Gustafson just sent this, taken from this website:
Lutheran theologian George Lindbeck was an invited observer at the Second Vatican Council, in the 1960s. He recounts that at the 19th-century FIRST Vatican Council,
"Austro-Hungarian Bishop Josip Strossmeyer had objected . . . to the view of some previous speakers that all the ills of the modern world, atheism, anarchism, and repudiation of Christian morality, had stemmed from the Reformation. 'We must remember,' Strossmeyer said, 'that there are millions of Protestants who truly love the Lord Jesus.' As he spoke, cries of 'heresy,' 'blasphemy,' 'come down, come down,' grew so loud that he was forced to leave the podium."
Fast forward to the Second Vatican Council: "there was the speech Archbishop Leon Elchinger of Strasbourg gave in Saint Peter's on how much Catholics owe to non-Catholics even in matters pertaining to the faith. One of his examples was scriptural scholarship. Roman Catholics, he said, owe a great debt to Protestant biblical studies. Second, he spoke of what he called the dogma of justification by faith first defined, as he put it, when the Jerusalem Council, referred to in Acts and Galatians, exempted Gentile Christians from circumcision and full Torah observance. This central dogma of the Catholic faith, Elchinger continued, has at times been better maintained outside than within Roman Catholicism, and if Catholics are now rediscovering it, it is largely because of the ecclesial communities issuing from the sixteenth-century reformation.
"At these words, to my surprise, I started to cry. . .".
FROM ROME TO PLANO:
And bypassing New York, where sits the headquarters of the Episcopal Church. Here,
for your "realignment of Christendom" files, a letter from Cardinal Ratzinger to the gathering of conservative Episcopalians in Plano, outside Dallas.
From Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Prefect of the congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on behalf of Pope John Paul II
I hasten to assure you of my heartfelt prayers for all those taking part in this convocation. The significance of your meeting is sensed far beyond Plano, and even in this city from which Saint Augustine of Canterbury was sent to confirm and strengthen the preaching of Christ's Gospel in England. Nor can I fail to recall that barely 120 years later, Saint Boniface brought that same Christian faith from England to my own forebears in Germany.
The lives of these saints show us how in the Church of Christ there is a unity in truth and a communion of grace which transcend the borders of any nation. With this in mind, I pray in particular that God's will may be done by all those who seek that unity in the truth, the gift of Christ himself.
With fraternal regards, I remain
Sincerely yours in Christ,
+Joseph cardinal Ratzinger
I have seen at least one Episcopal interpretation of this letter which seemed to me to read into it far more than is actually there. (One needs to remember how carefully these things are written, by minds like Ratzinger's that are extremely well trained.) The same writer had once said that the Catholic Church might welcome into full communion conservative Anglicans, including their women priests, which suggests the writer does not understand the Catholic Church very well.
But what the letter, and the fact that it went to a gathering of Episcopalians in some resistance to the Episcopal Church's government, does suggest is that the Vatican is beginning to recognize that within mainline Protestant bodies are smaller bodies of real believers, almost always embattled, with whom the Catholic Church can have a real ecumenical dialogue. It suggests that the Vatican sees that as the mailine Protestant bodies go down into apostasy, the Catholics ought to be picking up the people in the lifeboats, not trying to talk to the people who ran the ship into the iceberg and still refuse to admit there's a problem.
I hope it also means that the Vatican is coming to realize the extreme limitations of the official dialogues and the fact that many of the people on the other side of the table want to talk most earnestly about "the issues that divide us" while doing what they damn well please in their churches. If anything, the dialogue with the Catholic Church gives them some cover.
WE WON'T CHANGE:
I was raised to think that one did not praise oneself or even pass on someone else's praise, but I think the rules are slightly different for a collective enterprise. At that point passing on praise may be considered advertising, though that may not make things better.
Anyway, having conquered my scruples, I pass on something from a senior Orthodox priest, who is also an old friend of Fr. Richard Neuhaus, the editor of our brother magazine First Things. This priest writes in response to Tuesday's blog "Shots, cheap and not." I've paraphrased his description at the end of some other religious magazines.
First time "e-mailer" to Touchstone: I subscribe and have given a good 9 or 10 gift subscriptions last year. I plan to do the same this year. Re: The sensitive person who is upset at ad hominem comments of David Mills, and his response Oct. 7th.
The person doesn't subscribe to Touchstone, but prefers First Things. There are many issues of First Things that are so dry and tedious that the only thing that "brightens" the issue are the comments "While We're At It." Dick Neuhaus can be far more acerbic than many of the Touchstone writers, which makes me wonder if this oh-so-sensitive person really reads First Things.
D. Mills comments today, Oct. 7 are really excellent, and I was ready also to add "sons of vipers," when he already quotes "white washed tombs" of our Blessed Lord. I am so everlastingly tired of people expecting us, clergy and churchmen to always speak and write as weenie-weenie, wimpy little girls. Once again, part of the "feminizations" of Christian life today that gives so much of our presentation to an "uncertain sound" (St. Paul).
Touchstone is such a superior magazine in the opinion of so many persons I know because it does not mince words. It strikes the perfect balance between [the other three magazines, which he describes as "often tedious," "often dull," and "often true, but nasty"].
Don't change, please.
WHAT THE WORLD DOES TO "NOTHINGS":
A horrifying article from the New York Times: "A Boy Alone, Treated as if 'He Was Nothing'". The boy, Daniel, was so miserable he committed suicide at the age of 12. His mother did not take care of him and the students at his school bullied him, and the article says that his teachers did little to help him and implies that some bullied him also.
His mother was convicted of a felony, of putting her child at risk. The article notes that his mother was charged in April 2002, two months after her intent to sue the city had been filed," by which the writer may be suggesting the charge may have been politically motivated.
It is the sort of story that makes us think back on our own youths, and remember all those "weirdos" we didn't befriend. I must say that I don't think I ever abused them, and that I sometimes defended them, but as a friend who read the story said, I never befriended them either. It is useful to remember our own depravity and the costs it inflicts on others.
A reader, Steve Breitenbach, writes in response to the new television show described in Monday and Tuesday's blogs "Selling Sodomy," "Selling Dysfunction," and "Two More Points":
I have not seen the ABC show "It's all Relative" (and don't intend to), but it is impossible to miss the radio promo spots (at least in the Chicago area market) -- they seem to run every commercial break (radio drive time anyway). If you haven't heard this yet, there is an incredible description offered of the show's traditional family.
In what I presume is an effort to entice viewers to tune-in, they attempt to offer "catchy" teasers of information about the plot families. So for the traditional family, we have a voice (with sort of an embarrassed tone) explain they are "Irish, Catholic, Republican", then immediately another voice, male, but high pitched and with an obvious gay effeminate affectation interjects "Baaaaaboon". So the effect is to describe one family as Irish, Catholic, Republican, baboon -- the baboon part over a laugh track.
Two things (among many others, including an obvious agenda) struck me about this promo spot:
1. I think it may be significant, in some pop cultural sense, that being "Irish" and "Catholic" is now to be grouped with being "Republican". That is a huge cultural change. If TV is in indeed in some sense a reflection of cultural reality, it would seem that in our "inclusive" and "diverse" and "non-offensive" age, being "Irish" or "Catholic" are definitely not being acknowledged as groups worthy to cultivate and honor for hat they innately represent. It also signals that politically those groups have realigned from the Democrats to the Republicans.
2. Only 43 years ago John Kennedy felt the need to assure the country that his Catholic faith would not affect his behavior as President. The country was thereafter ashamed of this public anti-Catholic bias and our collective conscience told us to be more inclusive - at least that was the attitude I was taught, while I was growing up. Yet now we find commercial and entertainment value in bashing Catholics? Seems that if there is any progress since John Kennedy's time, it is progress in the wrong direction.
SHOTS, CHEAP AND NOT:
A reader from Minneapolis — "proper, not the suburbs, thank you very much," he says — writes:
I read Mere Comments every day, and enjoy it very much. However, one reason I have decided not to subscribe to Touchstone (as opposed to the, in my opinion, much more dignified First Things) is exemplified in the blog TWO MORE POINTS: from Oct. 7; namely, the reference to a scholar Mr. Mills is disputing as "Crosbie Hyphen Burnett" rather than by her legal name, the reason for whose hyphenation I assume Mr. Mills is assuming (probably correctly, but you never know).
This strikes me as rather ad hominem and as something of a cheap shot. I found the sample issue of Touchstone, upon which I based my decision not to subscribe, to contain a little too much of this sort of thing for my taste. I do not believe Christians should take cheap shots at their opponents; heaven knows there are more than enough "full-price" shots available.
Thanks for listening, and keep up the *true* ecumenical spirit.
I wrote to thank him for his comments, because he is probably right about my sarcastic treatment of the professor's name — it is possible, though it is not very likely, that the name is hyphenated for another reason than the ideological. I should have accounted for that possibility. I went back to the blog and took out the "hyphen."
But I think that he is wrong about the magazine as a whole, and that the error says something about what we are trying to do and how that work will be seen. I do not think he could actually point to any examples of such things in the magazine. The blog is a more personal, informal, intentionally provocative form of communication, different from the more considered and (if you will) solemn form of the magazine. In the latter, we do publish polemical articles, but we try to make sure the blows are fair.
We do, however, consciously avoid some of the niceties everyone expects in public discourse, which are themselves ideological rules masquerading as courtesy, and some people confuse this with rudeness or cheap shooting (to coin a phrase). We will not pretend that certain positions — the goodness of sodomy, for example, or the need for legal abortion — deserve to be treated as if they were legitimate possibilities or are worthy of the type of respectful engagement properly called "dialogue." We do not think we need act as if some abortionist apologist who drags out the usual sad stories offers a serious moral argument or is not, in fact, an apologist for murder.
In cases like these, the medium is a great part of the message, and we do not want the medium to say something we do not believe: that the view we're opposing "has a place at the table" or is "part of the dialogue," and in either case is a position to which we or other rational people might come. Everyone speaks like this about certain subjects. No one expects anyone to "dialogue" with an apologist for the former racist government of South Africa. We simply try to speak like this about those subjects the Great Tradition tells us are as objectionable as Afrikaaner racism.
The problem, I think, is that many Christians do not. (I am not saying this about our reader, whose reprimand was deserved.) They choose the world's choice of subjects to be engaged respectfully and its choice of subjects to be dismissed out of hand. Not consciously, mind you, but in their emotional reaction to certain words said to certain people.
The world is happy with this, of course. These Christians have absorbed and therefore act in the world's medium, so that it does not much matter what they say. The world does not care much if they still oppose abortion, as long as they treat abortion's apologists as if they had something of value to share and arguments that needed to be considered. The medium they have absorbed gives the message: "This might be okay after all."
Ears trained to expect declarations of respect for the other point of view (no matter what it is, unless it's racist) or of belief in the sincerity of the advocate (no matter what he advocates, unless it's racism) will find our way of speaking about such subjects jarring. We do think it is the biblical and patristic mode of discourse, but that is not a mode most modern Christians use, and not one they even like. They would have reprimanded Jesus for calling the pharisees white-washed tombs, which was (we forget) exceptionally rude.
One ought to be courteous, of course, but also exceptionally careful that courtesy is not mistaken for approval. An abusive or reactionary medium is also a message, and a message we should not send. But we should not be silenced by people who cannot tell the difference between speaking the truth firmly and abusing opponents.
I finished my response to our reader by saying that I hoped he would reconsider subscribing. An objection to what one thinks an occasional cheap shot does not seem to be a very good reason not to read the sort of thing one professes "to enjoy very much."
TWO MORE POINTS:
Two more points about the story described in "Selling Dysfunction" (the next blog).
First, the writer quotes a professor of counseling psychology from the University of Miami, who says:
"The research shows that somewhere around a third of American children will live in a household that doesn't include both biological parents," he says. "So there are a lot of non-traditional families. . . . But not as much as what television is indicating. It's sort of an overreaction to the past."
The quote is interesting to me because it reminds us 1) that two-thirds of children grow up with both their biological parents, which is one-third fewer than should, but a lot more than the anti-family propaganda — such as the tv shows Garvi describes — would have us think, and 2) that almost everyone still holds the normal family as an ideal.
The promises of sexual liberation and the deception of all those in the last forty years who gave "scientific" reasons to justify remaking the family, have hurt most people's ability to form such a family, but not their desire to do so. Perhaps there is something human nature that drives us to want such families, however badly we fail. If this is true, the propagandists can do great damage to people, greatly reduce the sum of human happiness, but they will never manage to destroy the ideal as the common ideal.
Second, Garvi also quotes Margaret Crosbie-Burnett, the chairwoman of the educational and psychological studies department at the University of Miami. She is "delighted" to see shows with less than ideal families, he says.
"It's maybe too strong to say those shows were destructive, but the meta-message was, 'This is a good family. If you look different from this family, you're not so good. . . . You're not normal,' " Crosbie-Burnett says. "If you were a kid living with a single mom, I think the message was pretty clear."
One gets used to this line of argument, and there is something to be said for it. No one wants a child, who is not at fault for his parents' failures, to feel bad about it, to feel abnormal, to become a target for his more blessed peers' abuse. But on the other hand, this is also one of the old and standard arguments for tolerating sexual irresponsibility and immorality, by removing from it any stigma, on the excuse that children will feel bad, but one suspects really because adults want to feel good.
The fact is, a child living with a single parent is not "normal" in the sense of meeting a social goal or ideal, though the situation is getting close to normal in the sense of being the one many people live. Crosbie-Burnett uses the effect on the child as an indirect argument against the ideal, which may, she implies, be "destructive."
An ideal will always stigmatize those who fail to meet it, and those closest to them. The sins of the fathers are visited upon the sons for several generations, as the Bible and sociology both make clear. You can't have ideals that are true and working ideals, without such stigma.
The way to avoid children feeling abnormal is to make sure they are not abnormal, that their parents reach the ideal. If I am right about man's instinctive love of marriage till death them do part, the child will know that his parents have failed, and feel that he has somehow failed with them, whatever television tells him.
The irony is that the policy of the Crosbie-Burnetts of the world will only make more children feel bad, by encouraging more parents not to bother staying married, or getting married in the first place. The children may not feel "abnormal" because their homelife is different from the one they see presented on television — though they will probaby still feel "abnormal" because their homelife is different from two-thirds of their peers'.
In any case, they will feel bad because they will suffer the effects, now abundantly documented, of living in sexually broken homes.
If, like me, you only know about television by reading about it, you will find in syndicated columnist Glenn Garvi's "Ozzie and Harriet, where have you gone?" a reason to keep the practice. After describing some of the new shows — you will want to read the whole column for the examples and the observations he offers — he notes that:
Of the 36 programs scheduled to debut on broadcast networks between September and November, only one, the CBS drama "Joan of Arcadia," is set in a reasonably amiable family environment where both parents are present. (You still can't exactly call it "normal," since the teenage daughter is apt to have visions of God in the school lunch line.)
The dozen or so other new families in the TV neighborhood range from discordant to dysfunctional, and they live in any configuration you can imagine except the traditional two-parents-and-a-couple-of-kids. . . .
A 2002 study by the Parents Television Council found that fewer than half the children on prime-time television lived with their two biological parents.
Let me stop here to note that "a couple of kids" is not traditional, if the tradition goes back farther than the 1950s and includes any culture besides the modern West and communist China. I think, though I can't yet argue, that that ideal is both a cause and a symptom of the grosser problems of the family we see today.
Anyway, as you might expect, some people produce these shows because lots of people watch them, and others because they have an agenda. One of the producers of It's All Relative, the show described yesterday in "Selling Sodomy," says that
"I think (the show) is pretty significant in terms of redefining what exactly a family is in terms of going away from bloodlines to how alternative families are stronger, if not the same, as the regular traditional families," says Neil Meron, one of the producers. "I think this show could — without sounding pretentious — it could potentially help that redefinition."
You see the pattern: anything like a normal family is grossly dysfunctional, while a queer family (using the word in both senses) is "stronger." Oh, right.
Justin Barnard, a professor at Messiah College, sends in an example of "the rhetorical campaign for the normalization of homosexuality," this one from ABC, puffing its new show "It's All Relative":
When Bobby O'Neil (Reid Scott) gets engaged to Liz (Maggie Lawson), the 'traditional' meeting of the parents is anything but. Not since Romeo declared his love for Juliet have two families struggled harder to get along.
From the writers of Frasier and the producers of Chicago comes this original, sophisticated comedy that explores modern love and relationships, albeit with a Hatfield-McCoy twist!
Bobby works in the Boston pub that his father, Mason "Mace" O'Neil (Lenny Clarke), owns and operates, and where mom, Audrey (Harriet Sansom Harris), helps out along with Maddy (Paige Moss), Bobby's feisty sister. They are a traditional, hardworking, close-knit Irish Catholic family.
Liz attends Harvard, is Protestant and knows a lot about art and culture. So, what's not to love about a girl with these credentials? Well, Liz has not one but TWO dads. She's been raised since infancy by art gallery owner Philip (John Benjamin Hickey) and his life partner, Simon (Christopher Sieber), a school teacher.
How Mace, this stubborn, meat-and-potatoes Archie Bunker of the new millennium, will find anything in common with the well-heeled and equally obstinate Philip is anybody's guess. Audrey and Simon do what they can to keep their spouses focused on the real issue — that their kids have chosen to marry each other. And at the risk of alienating this young couple, they'd better find a way to blend these two completely opposite families.
Prof. Barnard notes:
The fact that the show's title blatantly helps itself to the semantic ambiguity in the term "Relative" is evidence of just how vicious the rhetorical campaign has become. Epistemic clarity is conducive to illuminating truth. Ambiguity is rhetorically effective because it makes meaning and truth more difficult to see.
One also notices how — utterly predictably — the show stacks the deck. The Catholic is a bigot (an "Archie Bunker of the new millenium"), the homosexual merely "obstinate." The show will certainly make fun of Philip, but never in a way that casts any doubt on the fundamental righteousness of his position.
Finding "a way to blend these two completely opposite families" is, after all, the show's goal, because Love Conquers All. And, more to the point, justifies all. Thus a piece of propaganda will pretend to be even-handed.
Leaving aside the moral question, this way of treating the matter fails as a matter of drama. One could write a genuinely interesting, and also very funny, show by taking seriously the Catholic father and his faith, or by making him a Catholic professor at a major university. That an even playing field makes for more interesting games is a rule in the drama as well as sports.
MORE ON THE PREACHER'S LOT:
A Canadian pastor, Gordon Belyea, responded to yesterdays' "A preacher's lot":
I quite appreciated the short verses on the lot of the biblical preacher. While I don't know how one would make it rhyme, it seems that the fear of the preacher after delivering his platitudes in the final verse should not only have been of his listeners; it should have primarily concerned the Lord whose glorious grace he was called to proclaim.
Whenever I have felt that I've "laid an egg" in preaching, I must confess that beyond the concern that I'd be ill thought of by those whose approval a preacher needs the most (his audience!), I am struck by the disservice that I've done my Lord in poorly declaring the gospel of his grace.
A recent article of Touchstone mentions that one community church proclaimed it a sin to make the gospel boring. I think they're right, if for the wrong reasons. It is not a sin to bore people; it is a sin to portray God's magnificent working in building his kingdom in Christ, in calling the lost to participate in this by his free grace, in entering into his very creation as a man to redeem fallen men, as anything less than passionately gripping.
I think this is right, but would suggest one clarification, which I think Pr. Belyea would agree with. The church growthy church that declared making the gospel boring a sin seems to have meant that it was a sin not to make church entertaining, and entertaining on the world's grounds.
In my experience, real conviction in the preacher, no matter how limited his entertainment skills, will move a listener and compel his attention. The gospel story is a story that even told badly by a man who knows what it means and really believes it, will not be boring. Even if he is standing behind a plain wood pulpit in a plain white country church, without a band or an overhead projector in sight.
A famous cartoon from The New Yorker shows a speaker on a stage with a blackboard covered with a scientific equation, and stretched across the stage a bunch of barely clad dancers. Someone in the audience is saying to the man next to him, "I think he's trying to cover up a shaky theory." I've read a lot of the church growth material and know what they're trying to do, but I wonder if all their emphasis on sociological studies and good production values and what "unchurched Harry" will put up with covers up a lack of faith in the power of the gospel to convince and compel.
Some of their proposals, I think, can be seen as a form of courtesy. They are trying to make their guests as comfortable as possible. You can find the bathrooms in one of these churches, when some mainline churches seem designed to leave you in agony till you get home. This is all to the good.
But how much of what they propose — their elimination of Sunday worship in favor of putting on a show — betrays a probably unconscious lack of trust in the gospel on its own?
VICTIMS OF ALMOST MARRIAGES:
The November (!) issue of The Atlantic just arrived and includes, among the usual array of interesting articles, a review by Caitlin Flanagan of two books on brides and weddings, “Let’s call the whole thing off.”
The Atlantic is easily my favorite of the major magazines, and the only one of them I subscribe to. As a whole, it leans left, but its liberal writers are usually thoughtful and interesting, and very different from the cliché-spouting writers for, say, the Washington Post’s opinion page.
Flanagan reviews, wittily, There Goes the Bride, a self-indulgent book for would-be brides whose fiancés quit at the last moment. It seems to be a book “All About Me!”, which means that it will probably sell very well. For example, many “Almost Brides” have children, but
That these broken engagements . . . may also have constituted periods of significant loss and grieving for these children — who suddenly had to bid good-bye to a person they had expected would be a parent — goes shamefully unmentioned in There goes the Bride. Such is the lot of children in our culture: absent stigmas on divorce or single parenting or illegitimacy, with religion often a governing factor in people’s lives only to the extent that it is a boon rather than a constricting force, a child’s fate is entirely dependent on the sexual and romantic whims of his parents. And come wedding time, the child is considered merely a cast member . . . rather than someone whose life is about to be profoundly (if perhaps temporarily) affected by the events at hand.
Flanaghan then turns to Cinderella Dreams, a study of “the allure of the lavish wedding” (so says the subtitle) by two academics, Cele C. Otnes and Elizabeth H. Peck. It is an academic study from the predictable point of view (they say that white weddings are “socially lauded manifestations of heterosexual, patriarchal, and racial-based ideologies”), but Flanagan draws out several interesting facts and observations. Among them:
— the expected diamond engagement ring is the product of a trend created almost entirely by a De Beers advertising campaign of the 1940s.
— Whereas a wedding once provided young people with a moment of transformation so powerful that even a modestly funded event was a momentous one, nowadays — with marriage an iffy bet and with most betrothed couples having already helped themselves to all the liberties of adulthood — the only way to underline the moment is to put on an elaborate and costly show. . . . With clergymen and parents no longer the guardians of wedding rituals, that role has passed to retailers and party planners, who would happily marry a pair of baboons if someone was willing to foot the bill.
THE PREACHER'S LOT:
Fr. Craig Young sent round this, by the Anglican minister S. J. Forest, who wrote a series of books of humorous verse. It nicely describes the preacher's lot, and frustrations, and also the frustration of those of us who want substantive sermons and have been told by perfectly good preachers that they had to play to the crowd.
They didn't put it this way, of course, but that is what they meant. Pointing out that their job description and the sacred vows they took require them to preach substantive sermons did not move them.
BEWARE OF THE DOGMA
The Rev'd S. J. Forrest
He preached about the Trinity and how thew world began;
Explained the Incarnation and the Destiny of Man.
He carefully expounded every detail of the Creeds,
And tried to show their relevance to modern human needs;
He brilliantly upheld the Christian heritage of Truth,
And sought to make it lucid and acceptable to youth.
They listened with correctitude, but everybody said,
'He's far too theological, and quite above our head.'
He gave an exposition of the Church's means of Grace,
Revealing how the Sacraments revive a fallen race;
Of self-examination and the ways of Mental Prayer,
And why we need Communion, and how, and when, and where.
He spoke of Bible-reading, and to make it all complete,
Gave practical instruction on the value of Retreat.
And everyone agreed that it was logical enough,
But only suitable for those who like that kind of stuff.
He chose the Ten Commandments as the basis of a Course,
He amplified their meaning and emphasized their force;
He took the eight Beatitudes and Sermon on the Mount,
And spoke of Christian stewardship and rendering account.
He did his best to penetrate beneath their toughened skins
With pointed expositions of the Seven Deadly Sins.
They felt a little slighted to be led across this ground,
For morals in suburbia are basically sound.
One day, in disillusionment, believing no one cared,
He flung at them a homily completely unprepared,
Endeavouring his customary quarter-hour to fill,
With sentimental platitudes that meant precisely NIL;
Returning to the vestry in the grip of horrid fears
That people would consider it insulting to their ears.
But no, they were enraptured and devoured every word:
'Oh, Vicar, it was lovely! Quite the best we've ever heard !'
Something from Peter Toon, making a plea for the traditional meaning of the word "chastity," against an expansive meaning so expanded as not to be very useful. The new definition he offers, from an impeccably Evangelical source, says nothing at all about what you do with your sexual organs and is perfectly compatible with all sorts of immoral relationships.
Chastity - the old or the new kind?
The word “Chastity” is little used today in the Church, and even less in the world. This is a matter for regret!
What it used to mean - and still does mean - is a supreme God-pleasing standard for sexual relations. Regrettably, this standard seems to be universally regarded as too idealistic and/or not in touch with people’s real lives and feelings.
Chastity (from the Latin “castitas”, the quality or state of being chaste) has for centuries described the pure life, with particular reference to abstinence from unlawful, sexual intercourse. The unmarried and the married are both called to chastity. Thus fornication and adultery, and all forms of rape, are forbidden, being acts of impurity. Further, cohabitation and most forms of marriage after divorce fall within what Chastity has (traditionally) forbidden.
Using the modern expression of “orientation” it may be said that the call of chastity to those with a homosexual orientation is to an abstinence from “gay” sex.
The call to purity in general and sexual purity in particular is, of course, based upon many passages in the Gospels and Epistles where baptized Christians are called to purity of life in the church and in the world in imitation of Christ Jesus. And the purity that is being sought includes very definitely purity of mind and heart.
Let us hope and pray that this traditional Christian theme will influence the Primates in their discussions on October 15-16 and that they will not be too focused on one aspect of impurity, “gay” partnerships.
Today, there is a tendency amongst moral theologians to widen the meaning of Chastity and to free it from its traditional association with purity of sexual relations. Thus it is now said, “to be chaste is to be a person of integrity, true to self and to other persons, devoted to the love of God and neighbour in all things. The call to chastity is the call to receive, affirm, exercise and celebrate our ways of being human together, including sexual ways, so that respect, love, trust, mutuality and commitment towards ourselves and our neighbours will grow and abound in human community” (New Dictionary of Christian Ethics, IVP).
There is nothing wrong with these sentiments, but if we go with this wide meaning we find that we do not have a word to replace “chastity” as a powerful, incisive word referring to sexual purity. Maybe this loss is what pleases many in the modern churches!
I vote to stay with the traditional meaning! I hope the Primates also do.
Bravo for Peter. For other articles of his, a contributing editor to the magazine, see his parish website and the blogsite of the American Prayer Book Society.