Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Cutting the Gordian Knot of Lent Madness

Well, the time has finally come: the exercise in futility known as Lent Madness draws to a close this Spy Wednesday (the formulators of Lent Madness almost had Crusty with their designation of the Golden Halo on Spy Wednesday; Crusty is just glad someone else knows about Spy Wednesday; COD got his church to call their Wednesday in Holy Week service Spy Wednesday back in 1995; Crusty once preached a whole sermon about Spy Wednesday).  There are no more zero-sum-game
Spy Wednesday:  Backstory to a Kiss.
false choices to be made, no hard-fought debates about whether the New Deal was better than the Civil Rights movement, or whether people who lived out the gospel to the point of martyrdom are somehow more worthy than the random name given to someone credited with writing that gospel.  This annual exercise of mostly white live people voting for mostly white dead people is on hiatus for another year.  What should be our takeaway, what should we ponder as we prepare for the next round of Lent Madness (which, given the perpetual campaign mentality of the founders of Lent Madness, will probably begin on Easter Monday)?

[Psst -- Crusty is friends with the founders of Lent Madness and actually quite likes it. It's not so much Lent Madness but some underlying issues which it brings to the surface that gets me worked up and brings about the Hulk-like transformation into COD.]

In Crusty's most recent Lent Madness post, he reflected on the way in which Lent Madness is like the statue in the second chapter of Daniel:  it is a golden crown built on the clay feet of the Episcopal Church's utter paucity of any theology of commemoration or sainthood.  It is the clay feet of a theology of sainthood which has led to a kind of law of unintended consequences: the at times jaw-dropping arguments for one saint or another which range from misapplication of historical categories (can a random name of a person given to a gospel which is a composite of a number of sources have standing against an actual martyr?) to racism (we should vote for Frances Perkins over MLK because what she did helped all people).  Crusty doesn't blame Lent Madness, which, as he keeps saying, he actually  likes; but he is at times embarrassed, and at times horrified, by what it reveals about The Episcopal Church.

To review, there were very few commemorations on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church until 1964, when processes were set in place to allow for additional commemorations.  That process itself, however, is hopelessly flawed in practice, if not principle.  As COD wrote previously (try to think back to last week):

"The actual guidelines are laid out on pages 741-746 of Holy Women, Holy Men:  we commemorate persons to call to mind their lives for instruction, guidance, inspiration, and emulation; who should have actually existed;  who should be dead for 50 years (or two generations); and already be commemorated in a local observance in some way.  Well and good, but there's two problems with this.  For one, we have added persons that simply stretch the boundaries of this thinking, for all sorts of reasons:  persons from traditions that do not commemorate persons on a liturgical calendar, persons nominally Christian, persons not even Christian, persons not dead 50 years,  persons not commemorated locally by anyone, and persons who may not pass the historicity test (unless, of course, we become biblical literalists solely for the purpose of adding people to the calendar and treat Scripture as ahistorical in almost every other aspect).  And secondly, we haven't kicked people off the calendar who don't represent those elements.  By the standards we seem to have currently, I'd like to remove some people I don't think are worthy of emulation or inspiration and I don't turn to for guidance and whom I'm not sure existed historically."

Crusty has a solution for the conundrum of the Episcopal Church's fetid black hole of commemoration laid bare by Lent Madness:  Cut the Gordian knot.

Alexander the Great, while wintering in the Phyrgian city of Gordium, was faced with the riddle of the Gordian knot:  a knot supposedly impossible to untie.  Rather than fumble his way trying to untie the knot, Alexander simply cut it with his sword.  Crusty proposes mixing metaphors and using Occam's Razor to cut the Gordian knot of our calendar of commemoration:

Get rid of it.  Have GC 2015 decline to reauthorize Holy Women, Holy Men and all previous and subsequent added liturgical commemorations.  Return to the pre-1964 Kalendar.

As Sam Seaborn, Rob Lowe's character, once said on West Wing: "I have a thing. I have a thing I was
To play Crusty in the movie version of COD?  Yeah right.
going to mention, just a proposal to throw
out there. When I was a congressional aide, we had an expression, 'no idea was too stupid to say out loud,' so here it is, bear me out. Instead of buying these ships? Don't buy these ships. Buy other ships. Better ships. That's my idea."

Instead of this liturgical calendar, let's get a better liturgical calendar. That's my idea.

Now, Crusty would like to hasten to say that this is not because of any particular animus towards HWHM.  He uses it as the duly authorized calendar of commemoration as he has used all its predecessors, because it is what General Convention has authorized and COD thinks if we have structures we should follow them.  He thinks the folks who put it together did the best job they could, but they, in turn, are inheritors of the desultory situation produced by the combination of a lack of a theology of commemorating saint and not following the guidelines laid out for commemoration.  It's also not because of any particular love of the 1928 BCP and its predecessors; COD would be in favor of founding the Society for the Preservation of the 1979 Prayer Book, or the Society for Forgetting Entirely the 1928 BCP Because There's Not Much to Remember Because Lots of People Grew Up Never Using It And Think It is Overly Clerical And Sucks (granted, not a good acronym, but accurate)

COD is moved to suggest this course of action for several reasons:

a) It's clear we no longer follow the guidelines for commemoration laid out on pages 741-746 of Holy Women, Holy Men.  So why be bound by the commemorations which so openly violate them?  "Local commemoration" has been stretched to the breaking point:  Where are there Episcopalians locally commemorating Lottie Moon and Karl Menninger?  Thurgood Marshall died in 1993; how is sixteen years (from his death in 1993 to 2009 when he was proposed as a trial commemoration) two generations or fifty years?  Joachim and Anna are about as historical as Paul Bunyan.   Now, don't get Crusty wrong, Lottie Moon and Thurgood Marshall are amazing individuals.  And while it's probably pretty clear that Mary had parents, if we take non-canonical gospels written over a hundred years after the fact as passing the "historicity" standard, we might as well commemorate Feast Day of the Talking Cross (Gospel of Peter) or Feast Day of the Childhood Playmates Jesus Struck Dead (Infancy Gospel of Thomas).  Actually Crusty probably shouldn't have suggested those, they may show up in 2015.  All of these, and others, simply fail what is laid out in the guidelines for adding people to the calendar of commemoration.

And, of course, there's the corollary:  we exclude people from HWHM who are historical, are locally commemorated, and which many Christians see as worthy of emulation.  Charles I is probably the best example of this:  celebrated on many other calendars of the Anglican Communion and with his own devotional society, and voted down more times than William Jennings Bryan ran for president.  Note:  Crusty has absolutely desire to celebrate Charles I.  But HWHM is not about my own personal piety; Charles I clearly meets all the standards for commemoration.  Crusty commemorates Cyril of Alexandria, whom COD thinks was a thug and a poor theologian (and probably used Apollinarian theological treatises he thought were written by Athanasius) because he is on the calendar of commemoration, and he meets the criterion for being there.

This is another example of a crisis of governance and authority in the Episcopal Church:  where  canons, rubrics, and other components of governance are followed when one agrees with them, and conformity to them from others required, and simply ignored when one does not.  HWHM stands with communion of the unbaptized, those who require Lutherans to be confirmed when joining the Episcopal Church, people who have multiple chalices on the altar, and all sorts of other violations of standards of governance:  it's OK to violate them if we feel like it, and with no one actually asking whether we should change the standards themselves to reflect some kind of consensus.  It's apparently OK to add commemorations which are in open violation of the guidelines and OK to reject commemorations which are perfectly in line with the guidelines; I guess it depends on whoever is in the room at a given time when the voting happens.

Note:  Crusty is not some sort of slave to rubric and doesn't narc on people who don't stand or kneel during the eucharistic prayer.  He does not necessarily agree with everything in the Prayer Book or canons.  However, the answer is to change our governance, not capriciously to enforce those we agree with and refuse to follow those we disagree with.

b)   Getting rid of HWHM and the processes which created it would be a return to the standards of the early church.  The process of canonization was, by and large, a local affair for the the majority of the church's existence, done on the local level, with eventual petition to the diocesan level for recognition; and, if truly the will of the church, eventually gaining even wider acceptance.   St Guinefort, the dog saint, is one of Crusty's favorites of this kind of groundswell of local commemoration.  Even when the local bishop refused to authorize the commemoration, women continued to bring their children to his shrine for healing.  (Seriously, how could we add Copernicus and Kepler to the liturgical calendar and not St Guinefort?)  It has only become more centralized in Catholicism the past 500 years or so (and continues to undergo changes; John Paul II's  canonized more persons than all other popes combined).  The Episcopal Church had no process at all until 1964.
Crusty ain't voting in Lent Madness till Guinefort is added.

Why not let liturgical commemoration emerge from the local, grassroots level?  Allow bishops, in their authority as liturgical ordinary, to permit commemorations in dioceses?  This worked for a couple thousand years.

c)  It would be in keeping with aspects of our polity.  The Episcopal Church, historically, has allowed leeway to dioceses to order their patterns of life and worship.  There is, for instance, no canonical description of how dioceses should choose bishops, only that they do so.  A diocese could draw lots and it would be perfectly kosher by the canons.  If we now seem to be about letting decision making in the church be done at the closest level, why not do this with liturgical commemoration?  Diocesan bishops are permitted, as liturgical ordinary, to authorize certain aspects of worship; so why not let them?
Why let a small committee funnel a list through the General Convention, and declare that to be the "official" list of commemorations?   For a church that prides itself on its democratic polity, in reality we have a rather top-down process of liturgical commemoration of persons.  Let's let liturgical commemoration be the work of the people, and bubble up from the local level.

Let's return to a list of official commemorations that includes only the major feasts and saints' days of the church.  Let's get rid not only of Holy Women Holy Men but any officially authorized additional commemorations.

Getting rid of Holy Women, Holy Men would be a return to the traditions of the church catholic, and in keeping with aspects of Anglican polity.  And, if we truly believe that praying shapes believing, removing the shackles of a top-down process could open a path to solve the real problem underlying all of this and allow for a theology of sainthood and commemoration to emerge, over time, through praxis.

So next year, let's flip Lent Madness.  Instead of two people cherry-picking from our flawed process and calendar, instead of voting people out, let's open-source all of this.  What if we started with an open nominating ballot, and seeded persons from 1 to 32 based on the number of votes they get in the nominating process?  If we think it somehow raises awareness and serves as a teachable moment to have people advocate for a small list of pre-selected saints, how much more would it be if we built that list through an open process of discussion?

Instead of reflecting what's wrong with the church's process of commemoration, maybe Lent Madness 2013 can help fix it.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Fear the New Tribalism? Lent Madness and the Theology of Sainthood

OK, starting off with a disclaimer (never a good way to start, I know).  Crusty has been serving as devil's advocate, super villain in waiting, snarkster in chief, for the whole Lent Madness thing.  He hasn't voted or participated since early in 2012, when he helped, with others, to orchestrate Philander Chase's takedown of Thomas Merton.  Apart from wanting to uphold the legacy of the seminary where he is dean, Crust was miffed that Philander was set up as an obvious patsy to the much better known Thomas Merton.  And yea, verily, some people learned the hard way:  Don't mess with Crusty.

Truth be told, though, Crusty really has no beef with the whole Lent Madness thing.  COD is friends and colleagues with the people behind this, Scott and Tim -- and more than that, is honored to be friends and colleagues with them.  They are smart and savvy and have a deep spiritual and faithful center, and have done much more for the world in their ministries than a wise-ass blogger who spent a decade fruitlessly getting the world to care about ecumenism before becoming dean of the smallest seminary in the Episcopal Church.  They have done what no one else has been able to do in the past decade:  have the Episcopal Church be known for something other than lawsuits and fights over homosexuality.  That is no mean feat.

However, Crusty has been uncomfortable with some of the deeper issues Lent Madness has brought to the surface.  To be sure, Lent Madness has not created any of these issues; rather, they are part of the pond in which it is swimming.  COD is troubled by a new tribalism, expressed in advocacy born out of the absence of any coherent theology of practice of sainthood in the Episcopal Church.

Of all our studies, history is best qualified to reward our research.
Crusty was reminded of a story:  back in the day, before he was crusty, old, or a dean, COD was an undergraduate religious studies major at a New England college know for openness and liberalism.  He and his friends went off one Friday night to a party at Malcolm X House, the African American university-sponsored house on campus.  We had lots of them:  Womanyst House, German House for people who wanted to speak German, co-ed fraternities, all-male fraternities, sororities, you name it, we had one.  Crusty was headed to X House because they threw awesome parties, putting aside the notion that Malcolm would probably not approve of serving alcohol as a devout Muslim.  But anyway, Crusty was in line to get in when he noticed a sign at the front:  "Black Students: Free.  Everyone Else:  $5."  Crusty figured, Whatever, I'll certainly drink more than five dollars worth of beer tonight.  However, the sign sparked some serious conversation in the line.  One student asked, "Why does everyone else have to pay?"  The African American student collecting money at the door replied, "Because African Americans have been oppressed for so long in this society, we deserve to get something for free."  That caused a female student to shout, "What do you mean?  Women are still oppressed in this society!"  Then a Latino student called out, "I'm a person of color and an immigrant, I'm doubly oppressed!"  A Jewish student said, "What about Hitler and the Holocaust?  Jews have been persecuted for thousands of years all over the world!"  A gay student then said, "Sure, I'm white, but as a gay man I'm oppressed by this homophobic society!"  If only we had known about Godwin's Law back then, we were doing it in real time before the Internet!

Crusty thought at the time, as he still does, "They're all right; all those groups have been and still are oppressed."  What was startling was

a)  efforts to privilege one kind of oppression over another and
b)  arguing the finer points of comparison of gradations of oppression.

Rather than make any statement about oppression, the scene in the line only reinforced a kind of tribalism: advocating for one's perspective at the expense of the bigger picture.  Sadly this is something the internet has only reinforced in the past 25 years (yes, Crusty is old -- there were no cellphones or internet in that line), as groups are now able more than ever to communicate only with people that share their own viewpoint.   Rather than a debate in line, if this happened now, people would probably take pictures of the sign and storm off to post angry rants on Twitter and Facebook, where their like-minded friends would chime in, and then there would be a Tumblr made of all the stupid things drunk college students said so that the people who make those Tumblrs and think the same things but don't tweet them can be smug and superior.  Meanwhile, the real issue is never discussed:  all those people were, and are, oppressed.

Will Nikki and Paolo be in next year's Lent Madness?
Crusty was taken back to that night standing in line 23 years ago as he has seen something analogous at times in discussion around Lent Madness voting -- the notion that voting for one candidate or another is a sign or marker of what one thinks is more important or relevant than something else.  We can see this in the matchups first between Frances Perkins and Martin Luther King, Jr., and lately between Frances Perkins and Jonathan Myrick Daniels, and between Oscar Romero and Florence Li-Tim Oi.  There has been a  consistent push for Frances Perkins to win "so she can be better known."  (Throughout, Crusty will be paraphrasing some of the blogostwitterspherebook chatter so as not to single out individual persons -- except for the Mt Holyoke website, which openly advocated for people to vote for Perkins so she could be better known.)  Everyone knows Jonathan Daniels, people don't know enough about Frances Perkins!  Everyone knows MLK, people need to know more about Frances!  Sure, MLK was as civil rights leader, but Perkins' advocacy of the New Deal is important, too, and impacted as many people!  It has crystallized in some aspects around the Perkins-MLK and Perkins-Daniels matchups, but present elsewhere as well.  Is a vote against Florence Li-Tim Oi is a vote against women and women's ordination?  Or is a vote against Oscar Romero demonstrate a lack of willingness to stand with the poor?  At first Crusty thought some of the eye-raising matchups (Martin Luther vs Martin Luther King?) were just Lent Madness entering its hating its success and its audience phase, kind of like the third season of Lost.  Just as Crusty thought in line at X House, "They're right, they're all oppressed, but we're not talking about that, we're bickering over gradations of oppression," he found himself fuming that all these people are right in their advocacy of Perkins and MLK and Jonathan Daniels and Oscar Romero and Florence Li Tim Oi.

There are at least two issues in Crusty's mind with the way this is unfolding.

One is that it perpetuates the kind of zero-sum-game thinking that pervades our world.  Good God, we don't need to choose between civil rights and the f****g New Deal.   Aspects of the conversation itself  actually trivializes both.  Notice I say at best, because, of course, this whole Lent Madness bit occurs more or less inside our own bubble.  For instance, at an academic conference recently Crusty shared some of the Lent Madness stuff with some colleagues, marveling that Perkins had taken down MLK.  An African American colleague working at a historically African American seminary said, "On my campus we would consider it insulting to put Dr King up against anybody for a golden halo."

The second is that this reveals the utter paucity and void of any kind of theology of commemoration or sainthood in the Episcopal Church -- and all the knee-jerk Holy Women, Holy Men haters need to realize that it goes back longer than HWHM.  It probably goes back, in some form, to everything after the 1559  Book of Common Prayer.  Cranmer eliminated the overwhelming number of saints' days, restricting them by and large only to those with a biblical warrant or basis -- though even he included four commemorations  (St George, Lammas, St Clement, and St Lawrence) not found in the Bible.  After that, commemorations were added without any real systemic thought or justification -- 57 added in 1561, and another round with the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.  The Episcopal Church continued to have very few commemorations until the 1964 General Convention made up for lost time by adding over 100 commemorations and setting up a process for additional observances.

Since Anglicans (apparently) do not believe in the main function of saints in the Catholic  (and in some ways Orthodox) tradition -- that is,  an intercessory function of saints (we pray to them to intercede with God on our behalf), or pray for protection and healing directly from the saint -- the calendar of commemorations has served almost as an anamnesis.   The actual guidelines are laid out on pages 741-746 of Holy Women, Holy Men:  we commemorate persons to call to mind their lives for instruction, guidance, inspiration, and emulation; who should have actually existed;  who should be dead for 50 years (or two generations); and already be commemorated in a local observance in some way.  Well and good, but there's two problems with this.  For one, we have added persons that simply stretch the boundaries of this thinking, for all sorts of reasons:  persons from traditions that do not commemorate persons on a liturgical calendar, persons nominally Christian, persons not even Christian, persons not dead 50 years,  persons not commemorated locally by anyone, and persons who may not pass the historicity test (unless, of course, we become biblical literalists solely for the purpose of adding people to the calendar and treat Scripture as ahistorical in almost every other aspect).  And secondly, we haven't kicked people off the calendar who don't represent those elements.  By the standards we seem to have currently, I'd like to remove some people I don't think are worthy of emulation or inspiration and I don't turn to for guidance and whom I'm not sure existed historically.  So we'll give a pass to all the people on the calendar while adding people according to a different standard?  Here again, I don't blame the people who put together HWHM -- we use it at the seminary and I have a copy on my desk 24/7.  They were just working from processes they themselves inherited.

Listen to Boogalo Shrimp!  Stop the Madness!
Thus we have an interesting confluence:  a wonderful, lively, informative, and didactic form of mishegas called Lent Madness but which is like the statue in Nebuchadnezzar's dream in the second chapter of book of Daniel:  Lent Madness is pure gold, but built on the clay feet of our theology of sainthood and commemoration.  The paucity of this theology, in turn, moves the conversation at times to being an ecclesial version of undergraduates standing in line outside Malcolm X House,  arguing as to whether the New Deal or the Civil Rights movement is more important, or whether standing with the poor or fighting for women's rights should get your vote.

In this way, then, perhaps Lent Madness is a perfect metaphor for a theology of commemoration and sainthood in the Anglican world: the church's commemoration of saints, in all ages, has always told us more about ourselves than those we commemorate.  It seems our current format makes them little more than people we'd like to be Facebook friends with.