Tuesday, January 2, 2018

An Important Announcement from COD: All Things Must Crust

All Things Must Crust


I was talking with someone a few weeks ago who was not particularly a fan of these General Ordination Exam blog postings, and even thought I was undermining collegiality with my fellow members of the General Board of Examining Chaplains by continuing to post them. It was a good, open, honest conversation: despite the character I play on this website, I like to
My favorite Beatle.
think I’m open to discussion and engaging with people who may hold different opinions than I do. I reminded my colleague that I abide by all the confidentiality and social media guidelines established by the Board: I do not share the questions
with anyone, I do not write a word of these postings, I do post them, but only after all persons have finished the examination. I have violated none of the established standards of confidentiality or social media guidelines. My colleague reiterated that these blog postings were not to their liking. Finally I asked,

Do you know why I started doing this?” There was a pause. “Actually, no,” the person replied.

It’s not to be mean, or difficult, or to undermine collegiality,” I said, “though I realize I have to take responsibility for the reality that I may have offended people, and I need to hear that. I started doing this back in 2012, the first year I served as an administrator. I came up with the idea to post and dissect the questions for two main reasons. (And, BTW, I have stated these reasons over the years on the blog.)

The first is that taking the GOE was one of the most miserable experiences I’ve had in the church. I had no idea how to prepare, I thought some of the questions were confusing and others unfair, and, then when I got my evaluations, my evaluators said some things I thought were unacceptable, making assumptions about me I thought grossly unfounded. And I had no way to respond to any of this: I had no agency in the matter at all. Some people I didn’t know wrote an exam, other people I didn’t know evaluated it, and I was stuck with the results. I thought, at that time, if I can make this experience a little less isolating and lonely in the future for other people taking the exam, then I’d do it. Lo and behold, 18 years after I took the GOEs, I found myself in that position as academic dean at an Episcopal seminary. So I kept my promise and tried to make the exam a little less isolating, tried to create a shared sense of community among those taking the exam. That’s one reason.

The second is that the General Board is not accountable in any way, shape, or form to the broader church in any real way. Sure, we submit a report to General Convention, and sure, dioceses can vote with their feet and decide they don’t want to use the GOE. But for something that’s been around for so long and the vast majority of clergy have taken, it’s a bit shocking there’s no systems for discussion, evaluation, or feedback of the examination. If a question comes out that is confusing, or poorly written, or unfair – there’s no recourse. If an evaluator says something that is inappropriate -- there’s no recourse. If there’s a discrepancy in data – for instance, if there’s a question where there is a huge gap in pass rates between men and women, for instance – there’s no feedback loop. There’s more mutual accountability with my parish budget at monthly Vestry meetings as a simple country parson than an exam that impacts people’s lives and considered part of fitness for ordination. We had more mutual accountability when I was academic dean at the seminary. As a seminary professor, every course by every professor gets a course evaluation. Almost every event, public or private, that the seminary did, from alumni day to new student orientation, we sent out an evaluation. We don’t do don’t solicit feedback for the GOE in any way, shape, or form. I started this blog for this second reason – to try to raise issues and concerns around mutual accountability, because it’s not happening in anywhere else in any kind of tangible or transparent or recognizable way.”

That’s what I said to my colleague. These are the two reasons I started doing this, although I have not been involved the past two years. And I clearly hit a nerve, these are some of the more popular blog posts of the year.

I have concluded that it’s time to bring these postings to a close, and I will not be posting or hosting any GOE discussions. I’ve concluded that because the two reasons I started doing this six years ago, as outlined above, are no longer possible.

With regards to making the exam takers feel a little less anxious and isolated by providing a communal, shared experience: given the changing nature of the GOE, this just isn’t possible anymore. More and more people take the exam asynchronously apart from the four-day period in early January, given the changing nature of theological education, with more bivocational persons and persons trained locally and not in seminary programs. To maintain the integrity of the examination, in good conscience I cannot post anything until everyone has completed the exam, which is now often weeks after the majority of individuals have taken the exam. This is why in 2017, the postings came up to two weeks after the exam began, and almost ten days after the bulk of people completed it. Given the asynchronous way the exam is now taken, the postings can no longer function as that kind of communal experience, because of the need to safeguard the integrity of the exam process.

The second is that substantive accountability cannot be brought about by online commentary alone. Online commentary can raise awareness, but often does not bring about substantive change on its own – it has to be combined with structural engagement. This is why I agreed to be nominated for the General Board of Examining Chaplains, the group that prepares, administers, and evaluates the GOE. I agreed to be nominated because another colleague asked me, point blank, “Are you just going to complain about the GOE, or do you want to have the opportunity actually to do something?” I admitted the colleague had a point, agreed to be nominated, and was elected by the 2015 General Convention to the General Board of Examining Chaplains, and am halfway through my six-year term.

As I have said repeatedly in these postings, the exam is improving. We could list many improvements: the move to a simple proficient/non-proficient evaluation, central to a competency-based testing process; the inclusion of an evaluation rubric that both the exam taker and the evaluator receive; the move towards open resources on all questions, including electronic resources; and more. To be sure, the examination still has room to
Byzantine mosaic of Nyssa's epektasis.
improve.
We all do. I’ve been preaching regularly for over 20 years and believe me I can improve. St. Gregory of Nyssa believed that we continued to grow and develop spiritually after our deaths as our souls move into the eternal peace of God. It has improved dramatically and substantively thanks to the faithful work of the members of the Board, who, like me, take this ministry to which we have been entrusted seriously. But it, like all of us, always has room for continued improvement.

I cannot speak for others, only myself, but here are some of the ways I think accountability to the church can be strengthened: by asking exam takers, Commissions on Ministry, seminary faculties, and other constituencies to evaluate the exam yearly just like we evaluate every single course at seminary; if a question has a pass/proficiency rate differs dramatically from other questions (for instance, if every other question has a pass/proficiency rate above 80% and one has a rate of 50% – that’s something to flag), to do a post-mortem on possible reasons why; to collect additional data, such as proficiency rates by gender and ethnicity (to see if, despite best intentions, there may be a gender or racial gap in the exam). When looking at mutual accountability gathering feedback is essential, as well as having systems in place to address what we might find. We do it for almost everything else in the church. For God’s sake, I’m a parish priest, and I didn’t move the placement of the announcements in the service without gathering feedback from parishioners.

Higher education has changed dramatically in the past twenty years, and one of the most important aspects has been the emphasis on measuring outcomes and gathering feedback from constituencies, largely pushed by accreditation agencies. If you ran a seminary in 1990, you had to explain what degrees you offered, how you offered them, and demonstrate you had the resources (faculty; library; financial stability) to offer them. A massive change in the late 1990s and early 2000s was to demand that you show that you were actually doing what you said you were doing, and to be able to back that up. You say you have adequate financial resources? Show me your student loan default rate. You say you are preparing your students for parish ministry? Do a survey of recent graduates and ask them how well prepared they feel. And what happens if you find out you have a high student default rate? What steps will you take to address it? And so on. Collecting data and doing surveys is
Add a question from the Bobs on Annual Reports?
pointless unless you have systems in place to process the feedback and inform how you do what you do. Has this gotten burdensome at times? To be sure. But overall it has been tremendously important in requiring seminaries to create a feedback loop to inform best practice and establish procedures and policies to address issues that might arise.
Imagine if we asked parishes to do something similar, to take any kind of step to see if what they believe they are doing they actually are doing, and what systems they have in place for changing course if need be.

The GOE has improved by leaps and bounds in the past 5-7 years, in part because the General Board has begun bringing best practices of current educational and testing methodology to the exam. An important next phase will be to bring in evaluative and feedback best practices to continue to improve the exam – and, as such, Crusty is committing himself to this process. To put it real simple: if we can improve accountability to the church in structured, institutional ways, we won’t need rambling, pop-culture referencing blog posts to shriek into the wind to hold the exam accountable.

Let me be clear: I have not been formally asked in any way to stop blogging the GOEs. If this had been demanded of me, I would not have complied. I am doing this solely on my own volition.

Let me be clear: I stand by every word I’ve written on this blog or posted by others. I engage the readers in the comments and have answered personal emails sent to me because I believe in being held accountable for what I say and do as I try to hold others accountable.

I am sorry if my words here over the years may have hurt people or been cause of offense. Really, I am. I have a thick skin and let most criticism slide off me, while at the same time having a circle of close colleagues and a peer group I check in with. At times that may make me seem insensitive to others, and not realize how much words can have an impact. I am sorry for any offense. However, while offering that apology, I also would anyone who may take offense to think long and hard about how much of their offense is reaction to hearing negative feedback. Developing standards of mutual accountability, and being willing to process critical feedback, is sadly one of those areas where the church lags behind the secular society we often presume to think we are above.

To all of you disappointed there will be no blogging of the GOEs, I am putting my hope in the
Crusty's not going anywhere, friends.
possibility of living in a world where blogging the GOEs may some day no longer necessary. My thanks to all of you who have read over the years, I am continually amazed anyone has any interest in what a verbose, rambling, expletive-laced, pop culture name-dropping blog that looks like a GeoCities website from 1996 has to say. While retiring the GOE blogging, Crusty is still going to be full of piss and vinegar on other matters and will continue to blog. And, knowing the clusterf**k dysfunction the church serves up regularly, we can all be sure there will continue to be plenty of source material.

So let me close out one more time:

Well, friends, it's time for Crusty to ride off into the sunset for good on GOE blogging.  Thanks for joining me for the ride, and special thanks to Dread Pirate Crusty for filling in for the past two years.

And despite what you may think, and what Crusty has been accused of by some people, COD is not opposed to the GOEs.  Crusty loves the fact the Episcopal Church has always had a competency-based system, ever since the Course of Ecclesiastical Studies introduced by William White.  There's never been a single standard, unlike, say, the PCUSA or ELCA or Roman Catholic Church where degrees are normative, even written into polity in some cases.  With a competency based system, we have an inherit flexibility -- should we ever choose fully to embrace it -- in how we train persons for the ordained ministry. 

So be good, people.    Remember to stay grounded in prayer, Christian discipleship is hard and the only way to make it is to develop and cultivate a life of prayer.  Exercise regularly, it's the only free and 100% effective way to avoid numerous health problems. And have at least one minor vice to show the world you're human.

Glory to God, whose power, working in us, can do more than we can ask or imagine; Glory to God from generation to generation in the church, and in Christ Jesus forever and ever.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

A Christmas Gift for You: Crusty's Ranking of Christmas Songs

You may have noticed, friends, that Crusty has not been all that active the past few months.  There's one major reason for this: we are in such a crisis as a nation that dissecting picayune, insider issues within a particular denomination pales against the assaults against the social safety net, the right of persons to vote, the full equality of LBTQ persons, and so many other issues.  As COD mentioned in a sermon, "I never thought I'd have to reassert Nazis are bad, anti-Semitism is wrong, and I can't believe we need to bring back duck-and-cover drills, but welcome to 2017."  Crusty has little time splitting hairs on issues of importance in a largely insignificant denomination when the world needs Christians to band together with people from other faith traditions and all people of good will on areas of common cause, in the service of the one who told us that we will be judged by how we treat the last, the least, and the lost in our world.  So please excuse Crusty. I've stopped and started a dozen blog posts in the past five months, each time asking, "Does this really matter in 2017? If not, we no longer have that luxury as people of faith."

But hey: it's Christmas, so time for Crusty's CHRISTMAS GIFT TO YOU.  COD, before he was a
There's only one version of "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)"
history and theology snob, was, and is, a music snob, like Jack Black's character in High Fidelity.  Crusty can opine on how Owen Bradley ruined country music, why Aretha Franklin deserves the Nobel Prize, played in a pre-Dropkick Murphys band trying to be the Dropkick Murphys before there were Dropkick Murphys -- and so on.

So, as part of this Christmas Gift For You, COD offers his definitive top 4 Christmas Songs of all time.  Crusty was going to pick top 3, but couldn't choose only three, so chose four,  since it's Advent, it's in keeping with honoring Mary as co-Meditatrix of Salvation and expanding the Trinity into the Holy Foursome (though, if you're a Lutheran, drop Mary and add Luther).  And by Christmas songs, Crusty is not talking about traditional songs -- no Sinatra or Josh Groban crooning standards -- but originally written Christmas songs of the post-1954 rock-and-roll era.

Here they are, in order of chronological release:

"Father Christmas," by the Kinks (1977)
Remember the kids who got nothing.

One of the few socially conscious Christmas songs, exposing the veneer of commerciality and consumption -- this is a Christmas song for Thatcherite times, just pre-Margaret Thatcher; a song railing against the 1% before we called them the 1%. In this song, the Kinks sing about a group of kids who rob a department store Santa for his money because they have nothing.

The narrator begins by acknowledging times have changed since his youth:

When I was small I believed in Santa Claus/Though I knew it was my dad
And I would hang up my stocking at Christmas/Open my presents and I'd be glad

 The narrator, likely growing up in the 1960s during the shaking off of the post-World War II deprivations and economic expansion, had it pretty good.  He then notes the difference between his childhood and the current reality:

But the last time I played Father Christmas/I stood outside a department store
A gang of kids came over and mugged me/And knocked my reindeer to the floor

They said: Father Christmas, give us some money/Don't mess around with those silly toys
We'll beat you up if you don't hand it over/We want your bread so don't make us annoyed
Give all the toys to the little rich boys

This reflects a Britain that suffered under the 1973 recession, imposed caps on wage increase and limiting of collective bargaining in the mid-1970s, and was about to careen towards the "winter of discontent" in 1978-1979 with widespread civil unrest and labor strikes in response to the economic situation.  Hey, if you'd just listened to The Kinks, you would've known this was all coming.

In a world where Father Christmas favors the rich, the disadvantaged want money, because, well, they need it.  Later, in a plaintive call, the kids who rob Santa reveal their true wishes:

But give my daddy a job 'cause he needs one
He's got lots of mouths to feed

The final coda breaks the fourth wall and addresses those listening to the song, reminding all of us privileged enough to have hi-fi stereos (hey, it came out in 1977):

Have yourself a merry merry Christmas
Have yourself a good time
But remember the kids who got nothin'
While you're drinkin' down your wine
If only Christmas carols, rather than descending into insipid Victorian sentimentality (looking at you, Away in a Manger and Once in Royal David's City) managed to retain as much of the raw essence of the Magnificat, and the way in which God becoming human is meant to overturn the conventions of our world, cast down the mighty, and bring comfort to the poor, as the Kinks managed to do in this song.

"A Fairytale of New York," the Pogues with Kirsty MacColl (1987)

One of the major issues with Christmas is the way it has become some kind of idealized, often largely secularized, projection of how people wish the world could be a certain way despite the fact it is regularly and routinely not that way: wishing for peace in a world torn with strife, briefly taking time:
I want to have been in the room when this photo was taken.
to think about others before returning to self-absorbtion, and so on.  The Pogues, growing up in Ireland but spending significant time in London, were also operating within the particularly UK-specific fondness for Christmas songs that perpetuate this fantasy.  The UK loves Christmas songs, they climb high on the pop charts in a way they don't in the US.  The Pogues explode the cheap sentimentality of whole genre (I'm looking at you,Paul McCartney, in the opening lines of the song:

It was Christmas Eve babe
In the drunk tank
An old man said to me,
Won't see another one

The first time Crusty heard this in 1990 he thought: OMFG this is a Christmas song?  Someone in the drunk tank, rolling over, hearing an old man confess, half to his cellmate, half to God, half to himself, that this might be his last one before the disease which has ravaged his life claims him?

Crusty kept replaying that opening piano riff and opening couplet again and again and again when he first heard this.  The Pogues were telling The Cloying UK Christmas Song To PISS OFF.

Then...then...Crusty needs to take a moment...OK I'm back...they pair Shane MacGowan's growl with the soaring voice of Kirsty MacColl, taken from us too soon in a tragic boating accident for which, to this day, no one has ever been held accountable in her death.

The middle portion is the story of a relationship's rise, fall, and a looking back, in three acts / verses.   If you don't get goosebumps when Kirsty sings, "They've got cars big as bars, they've got rivers of gold/But the wind goes right through you, it's no place for the old/ When you first took my hand on a cold Christmas Eve, you promised me Broadway was waiting for me," you are dead inside.  Shane then joins in as they sing together, to a crescendo of "Sinatra was swinging, all the drunks they were singing/ We kissed on the corner then danced through the night/ The boys of the NYPD choir were singing 'Galway Bay', and the bells are ringing out for Christmas day."

But this is no "Wonderful Christmastime", no idealized celebration of life and love: everything crashes down in the next verse, the bitterness and anger of the breakup culminating in Kirsty snarling,  "Happy Christmas your arse, I pray God it's our last."

What makes this Christmas song so incredible is that it is so real.  No one had ever dared to write a Christmas song which makes our sorrows, our disappointments, and our regrets part of the Christmas experience.  There's an attempt at reconciliation in the final verse:  When Shane mewls "I could've been someone," Kirsty stops this self-pity in its tracks, "Well so could anyone: you took my dreams from me."  Finally, broken down, and, as I've always thought, imagining all of this conversation in in his own head lying in the drunk tank as some kind of DT-tremor hallucination, Shane confesses, "Can't make it all alone/ I've built my dreams around you."  This is one of the most fully realized and fully authentic representation of what it means to have love and lost, especially someone struggling with addiction (he is in the drunk tank on Christmas Eve), let alone set within the context of a Christmas song.

The Pogues are precisely the ones to tell us our sorrows do not disappear magically at the Christmas season: oftentimes, they are actually magnified and brought to mind, and if we can't try to come to grips with them, they can destroy us.  And this clearly has struck a chord, since, despite telling the Sentimental Christmas Song to bugger off, this single regularly and repeatedly charts in the UK every Christmas season and is now quite likely the most popular Christmas song of all time in the UK.

"Christmas in Hollis," Run-DMC (1987)

It opens with Run talking about bumping into Santa sitting on a park bench in Hollis, Queens, where Run, DMC, and Jam Master Jay grew up, thereby proudly and openly proclaiming and claiming that BLACK FOLK LOVE CHRISTMAS
CRUSTY WANT.
AND SANTA LOVES BLACK FOLK.  There's a long history of African American artists covering songs written by others (the greatest of which is the Drifters' version of "White Christmas"), and notable original Christmas songs by African Americans include Teddy and Akim's "Santa Claus is a Black Man," and James Brown's "Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto."  But, in general, in both music and much of popular artistic renderings, ever since A Christmas Carol kind of kicked off the modern cultural celebrations of Christmas, #ChristmasSoWhite would have been trending had ever since had there been twitter. Good God, a few years ago we had Megan Kelly calmly and assertively claim Santa is white: "I mean, Jesus was a white man too. He was a historical figure, that’s a verifiable fact, as is Santa — I just want the kids watching to know that.”

This song also comes at an important cultural moment.  Rap was moving into the mainstream in the 1980s, and Run-DMC were largely (but not solely) the ones who did it.  At the same time, the 1980s continued the cultural demonization  of African American as criminals and drug dealers, and institutionalized this with mandatory sentencing laws that were passed that unfairly targeted African Americans and created the mass incarceration prison industrial complex.  As Melle Mel put it in his seminal rap single "White Lines": "A street kid gets arrested, gonna do some time/He got out three years from now just to commit more crime/ A businessman is caught with 24 kilos, he's out on bail, and out of jail and that's the way it goes."

Run-DMC paints a picture of decent, honest Africans Americans who celebrate Christmas with family and try to do what is right, in contrast to the rampant stereotypes of African Americans permeating the culture.  Run spots Santa on a bench, Santa drops his wallet, and then disappears. Run picks it up and finds it full of money -- nearly a million dollars!  But he immediately says, "But I'd never steal from Santa, cause that ain't right/ So I'm going home to mail it back to him that night." And his honesty is rewarded: "But when I got home I bugged, cause under the tree/ Was a letter from Santa and all the dough was for me!"

After exploding the trope of rapper as proud criminal, and instead making it about doing what is right, in the face of a broader culture that marginalized African Americans, the second half of the
You ever go over a friend's house to eat/ and the food just ain't no good?
song comes from DMC, and is just as proud.  Rather than presuming the Norman Rockwell painting of white people in ties eating the traditional dinner, DMC claims his own African American Christmas traditions:

"It's Christmas time in Hollis Queens/Mom's cooking chicken and collard greens
Rice and stuffing, macaroni and cheese/ And Santa put gifts under Christmas trees."

Thanks to Run-DMC (and the massive airplay the accompanying music video got on MTV at the time) Christmas, you're not so white anymore.  All I want for Christmas is for someone to be held accountable for Jam Master Jay's untimely and still unsolved murder from 2002.

"The Christians and The Pagans," Dar Williams (1996)

 It tells the story of a same-sex, non-Christian, Wiccan, pagan couple stopping by to see one of their uncle’s while in town celebrating solstice and celebrate Christmas with him and his family. Like all good Christmas songs, it sets the stage in the first lines: “Amber called her uncle, said we’re up here
Dar back at Wes. Couldn't play MoCon b/c they tore it down!
for the holidays; Jane and I are having solstice, now we need a place to stay.” Her uncle tries to talk them out of it: “I know our life is not your style,” he says, before she protests, “Christmas is like Solstice, we miss you, and it’s been a while.”  Like with Run-DMC, context is important here.  An unspoken tension in this song is whether the uncle's hesitation to have his niece come is because she's a pagan or because she's gay. This song came out in 1996, when same sex marriage seemed an impossibility, and to have a song about a same sex non-Christian couple sharing Christmas with their straight-laced, Christian relatives was a little more radical.  Crusty was active in ministry in 1996, he was a CPE chaplain doing a year-long residency who spent a lot of time with gay men dying from HIV-AIDS, often rejected and deserted by their families rather than welcomed to Christmas dinner.  COD preached at his first celebration of a same sex commitment ceremony in 1996, was warned by his sponsoring rector that if word got out it might damage my ordination process.  Crusty only brings up all of this so that we remember how much our contexts have changed.  Just like Run-DMC burst the bubble of #ChristmaSoWhite, Dar helps burst the bubble of #ChristmasSoStraight.


So they all get together, the Christians and the Pagans, and sit down to dinner.

I love this Christmas song not just because it has genuinely hilarious and touching moments, nor because I went to college with Dar Williams, the singer, and we're only two years apart; not because Dar was a religion major and by virtue of being a successgful recording artist is quite likely one of the most successful religion majors Wesleyan University has produced. Not for any of those reasons, as true as they all are. I love this song because I actually think it reflects some central aspects of what God is intending in the story of Jesus’ birth.  

In Luke's gospel, the night Jesus is born an angel appears to shepherds keeping watch over their flocks and tells them, “Do not be afraid; I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.” The words that have always stood out for me in this are “all people.” Everyone. You could translate it poetically as “the entirety of humanity,” or “every single person.”


Sure, Christians believe God becoming human in Jesus Christ has particular significance for Christians.  But the angels didn’t say this was for all believers, didn’t say this was for all whom God chooses, the angels say it is good news for everybody. Everybody.  What does that mean?  Do we ever think about what there is in Christmas which transcends the doctrinal ways in which Christians claim and name it?

This is why Dar Williams’ song is one of my favorites: because like the angel, she tells us that Christmas is not only or solely something for Christians but it for all people in a sense. In another verse, her Christian cousin asks her, “Is it true that you’re a witch?” The reply, from her cousin's partner (there was no same sex marriage in 1996) is that, “"We love trees, we love the snow, the friends we have, the world we share, / And you find magic from your God, and we find magic everywhere." COD has no problem if people find magic everywhere.

Dar even includes an actual, real, tangible way in which people can stop wringing their hands about how the world isn't the way it should be at Christmas, and shows us how we can try to live into those things we claim to celebrate at Christmastime.  Dar later sings, "When Amber tried to do the dishes, her aunt said, Really, no, don't bother,/Amber's uncle saw how Amber looked like Tim and like her father. /He thought about his brother, how they hadn't spoken in a year, /He thought he'd call him up and say, It's Christmas, and your daughter's here."  Whether there's some kind of rift in the family, or perhaps just the busy-ness of life, this visit from these non-Christians prompts Amber's uncle to reach out to that brother he hasn't spoken to in a year.  So this song makes Christmas a little less straight, challenges Christians to live into what it means for Christmas to be good news to "all people," and shows us what we can actually do to try to mend the brokenness in our world.

She concludes by singing, “So the Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table, /Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able, /Lighting trees in darkness, learning new ways from the old, and /Making sense of history and drawing warmth out of the cold.”  Though, given all that has happened in 2017, Crusty is less sanguine about Dar's claim that "Now when Christians sit with pagans only pumpkin pies are burning."

Well, friends, this is enough Christmas sermon avoidance for Crusty, time to get back to it, as much as I'd like to just read this blog as my Christmas sermon.  Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year's, all.   

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Almy Catalog, The Episcopal Church, and the Smurfette Problem

Crusty flopped down on the couch after lunch on Sunday, ready for The Clergy Nap.  In preparation for this weekly event, Crusty likes to do something that stops his mind from racing from the events of the morning and allows him to settle down.  Since COD is easily whipped into a self-righteous fury, he was not looking for something to stoke his readily induced indignant rage. This Sunday, he noticed the fall C.M Almy catalog: sure to induce napdom.   What can be offensive about moderately priced ecclesiastical garb of moderate quality that never changes?  What's new in Guatemalan stoles?  Is it finally time to buy those preaching tabs?  What's the ugliest chasuble I can find?  Instead, he saw this advertisement while flipping through the clergy shirt section, and presents it for once without a snarky caption, in its fullness, without comment:





Far from inducing a nap, this resulted in the following reactions from Crusty:




AND



Resulting in this blog post:




CRUSTY SMASH!

Let's enumerate what's wrong with this photo.

1)  It treats women differently than men, by definition a central component to sexism.

Example:  Almy has what it calls an "ideal" clergy shirt for men, which zips up in the back and has a flat front.  Hey, just like this woman's clergy shirt, which has a flat front and zips up in the back!

Have they ever, in the decades they have had this "ideal" men's shirt, EVER shown the back of the male model?  Never.  They have shown this guy, who's probably been dead for 10 years because the photo never changes.



For the woman's shirt in question, we have the shot of the woman's back, stretching down to her nether regions, paired with a frontal shot of the woman un/buttoning the front of a shirt.  We don't have this guy's back showing how the shirt zips up.  We don't have him showing us how the shirt works by pulling it over his head, revealing his 6-pack tawny port abs and Delta Tau Delta t-shirt underneath.  Given the warm feelings this photo imparts, he likely has a pipe and a glass of scotch on the table next to him, jaunty thumb on his belt as he dispenses homespun wisdom.

2)  You might argue, "Lighten up, they need to show that the clergy shirt layers over something else."

OK, here's the problem with that:

A)  FEMALE CLERGY ALREADY KNOW THAT THIS SHIRT IS MEANT TO BE LAYERED.

and

B)  YOU DON'T NEED TO SHOW THE WOMAN FROM THE BACK.

This is a particular trope: sexualizing women by showing them from the back.  Comic books have done this for decades, sexualizing women in a way that they would never sexualize male superheroes.

Hey, here's a widely distributed promo photo for Netflix's series The Defenders.  Guess who is photographed from the back, in order to accentuate her anatomy, while every other member is photographed from the front?  It's  Jessica Jones, the female member:


Hey, here's a series of promotional photos from the Avengers' movie.  Robert Downey, Chris Evans, and Chris Helmsworth are all very handsome, buff guys.  Guess who is regularly shown in profile, to accentuate her lady parts?  Black Widow!


and


and


BUT:


Here's a screen capture from the DVD's main page.  Which one is posed differently from the others?



Crusty literally could go on and on and on.  And we're not even getting into Game of Thrones.  Thing is, I expect this from Hollywood.  But the f****g Almy catalog?

C)  It's also not how a specifically female-oriented company markets it.  Women Spirit, a company specifically promoting women's clerical wear, advertises the exact same shirt as follows:


The focus is on the garment, it tells us the story of the person who designed it, there is no person buttoning/unbuttoning her shirt, and the person is facing the camera.

So that's what's wrong with the photo:  It treats a female model different from a male model, markets an item for women differently than it does for men, and either intentionally or unintentionally perpetuates a stereotypical visual sexualization of women.

OK, so that's what's wrong with the photo.  Crusty is frankly baffled that in 2017 this somehow was considered a good idea for a marketing campaign.

Now -- why does this matter in the broader issue of sexism in the church?

1)  It represents the same kind of failure adequately and fully to bring women clergy fully into the life of the church, even though it has been decades since we have had female clergy in The Episcopal Church.  It matters because the church has to face its issue with the Smurfette Problem.  The Smurfette Principle is the concept that an otherwise all-male cast of characters gets a lone female character, often sexualized or some other stereotype, as a token figure.  Black Widow, as portrayed in The Avengers movies, is the perfect modern analogue.

The reason the Smurfette Problem matters is because it inhibits the full equality of women in the life of any group or organization: in the words of the person who coined the term: "The message is clear. Boys are the norm, girls the variation; boys are central, girls peripheral; boys are individuals, girls types. Boys define the group, its story and its code of values. Girls exist only in relation to boys."  Over forty years after the ordination of women, nearly thirty years after the consecration of the first woman bishop, we must address the fact that maleness is still the presumed as normative, women are tokenized, often placed into stereotypical categories.

Crusty wants to be clear that the Almy catalog is not the problem, and a write-in campaign will not fix the deeper, underlying issues in the church.

Any look at any objective series of data confirms this.  Women clergy still lag behind men in the church in the following ways:

--Overall, average compensation for male clergy is $60,000 and $45,000 for women
--Women tend to receive less in average compensation than men for the same job with same years of experience.
--Women are less likely to be rectors than men: 93% of male clergy have held a Rector or Vicar position, as opposed to 65% of female clergy.
--Men are 61% likely to say it is difficult to balance being a clergyperson and parent; 84% of women clergy say it is difficult to balance being a cleric and parent.
--Married male clergy received more in compensation than unmarried male clergy.  It is the inverse with female clergy: unmarried women receive higher average compensation that married women.
--Men are more likely to say it was "easy" to find a suitable paid position (42% of men vs. 28% of women)
--We have been consecrating women as bishops since 1989.  We have over 100 dioceses in the Episcopal Church.  We have had 15 women diocesan bishops in those thirty years over those 100 dioceses.

And more!  Here's 40 pages of recent data on women clergy which demonstrates differences with male clergy crunched and explained by the Church Pension Group!

Just like electing Barack Obama as President did not solve the issue of race in the United States, electing Katharine Jefferts Schori did not solve the issue of sexism and full equality of women in the life of the church.  We still have a glaring Smurfette Problem, down the level that a photo like this was considered appropriate for a marketing campaign.

2)  In fact, there are precisely those who think because we have lady bishops, lady rectors, and lady doctors [note: this, as the Official Child of Crusty Old Dean (OCOCOD) would say, with an eye roll, is "sarcastic voice." There is no such thing as a lady bishop or a lady doctor, appending a "lady" in front of something only reinforces the Smurfette Principle that maleness is the normative paradigm] that sexism is no more.  Over a year ago Crusty was serving as supply clergy and preached a sermon where we spoke about the need for full inclusion in the life of the church, and specifically named racism, homophobia, and sexism as areas where the church cannot pretend that these issues have been resolved.  Someone came up to him afterwards and said, "I can understand you naming racism and homophobia, but why sexism?  Women can do anything men can do in the church."  Literally, Crusty laughed and said, "Yeah, amirite? So many people think that."  See, I thought the guy was joking.  Staring at me stone faced, I then stammered, "Oh jeez, you were serious?"  Crusty then rattled off the statistics cited above and more, but the man walked away, clearly unconvinced.  Another parishioner came up and said, "I don't mean to pry, but I overheard.  Don't be so hard on him, nobody has ever talked about sexism in this church from this pulpit except you here this morning.  Nobody's ever told most people this.  It's probably is news to him."

Another example!  Crusty was on a non-voting observer on a search committee for a church institution which brought in three candidates for a senior leadership position:  a white male clergy person, a male clergy person of color, and a female clergy person.  It came down to the white male clergy person and the white female clergy person.  One prominent member of the search committee solemnly intoned that they were both great candidates, but the female "Just isn't ready for prime time."  People around the table nodded.  Crusty thought, "WTF are these people talking about?  The woman headed an organization with a larger number of employees and larger budget than the male clergy person, but somehow the male clergy person was "ready for prime time"?

So not only do we have a Smurfette Problem -- not only are women tokenized and marginalized -- many times leadership is complicit.

Nobody had spoken to that congregation about sexism, so it was a surprise to some.

No voting members challenged the assumption that an equally qualified female candidate leading a larger sized organization than the male candidate was "not ready for prime time."  [Crusty, who was an observer, and had no voice and no vote, but did express this concern privately, during a break, to several members of the search committee before the vote was taken.  I felt it was not my place as a non-voting observer publicly to insert myself into another organization's decision making process.]

Church leadership stand convicted of failing to call out and name this kind of sexism, particularly and especially  male clergy, who benefit from the systemic sexism of the system.  We speak of poverty having systemic components.  We speak of racism having systemic components.  We must name the fact that sexism in the church has systemic components which transcend whatever individual persons may or not may not express.

And these examples here are ones of discrimination in employment and deployment and equal opportunity and access, which, as reprehensible as they are, pale in comparison to other manifestations of sexism in the church.  This does not take into account sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, and physical and verbal abuse towards women and women in leadership in the church.  It wasn't even until the 1990s that our disciplinary canons were amended to remove statutes of limitation for sexual misconduct, and to permit single individuals to bring charges of sexual misconduct (rather than needing people to "sign on" to a presentment, which was the previous process.  Can you imagine being a woman who has been the victim of sexual harassment or misconduct and having to go find some priests to convince them to sign on to your complaint?).

3)  One may argue, "Oh come on, Crusty, it's just a photo, they didn't mean it."  You know what?  Crusty doesn't care whether this was intentional or not, just like it doesn't matter whether one intends to be racist or not, whether one unintentionally invokes racist tropes or motifs.  That perpetuates the power dynamic:  those with power do not get to define what is sexist and what is not.

4)   Hey, full disclosure:  my wife is a priest.  Mrs Crusty [again: sarcastic voice;  Mrs Crusty kept her maiden name, we have a child with a hyphenated name, all of which has caused untold confusion when it comes to compiling church directory time] was ordained at age 25 at a time when only 300 or so of the 7,500 or so clergy in the church were under 35 years of age, let alone female.  We have been married for nearly the entirety of her ordained life, so Crusty has had a front-row seat to sexism in the church.  Crusty has seen her subjected to a whole range of sexism: from explicit sneering, to using passive-aggressive tactics as a cover, and even from people utterly clueless they're being sexist.  COD has always always tried to be as helpful and supportive as possible to Mrs Crusty, while also realizing he cannot reinforce patriarchal paradigms and be some kind of  savior.

But guess what?  One does not need to have a gay nephew to understand homophobia and discrimination against LGBT persons is wrong.  One doesn't need to have a black friend to understand that racism is wrong.  Just because COD is married to a female clergyperson does not mean one has to have a connection to a woman to realize that sexism is wrong because EVERY HUMAN BEING ALIVE TODAY HAS A CONNECTION TO A WOMAN BY VIRTUE OF BIRTH.  While giving you my own testimony, it doesn't make me special, one shouldn't get a cookie just for doing what is right, and doesn't let anyone else off the hook.  Standing against injustice should not depend on having a personal connection to a particular injustice. "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."

I call you out, whoever approved this spread in the Almy catalogue.  But that was only the symptom that set off Crusty's rage: we have much deeper, systemic issues around gender inequality.  So while I call them out, Crusty does not want the Almy catalog to be the issue, that will only keep the church from addressing the deeper questions.  I call out a church that doesn't think it is a problem.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Crusty's Fake News! for Anglicanism



There's been a lot of ink spilled in the last year or two on "fake news."  It's been interesting to chart the development of the term, which began, originally, as an effort to identify the planting of actual fake news stories, either intentionally (through malicious intent) or unintentionally (through

Seen a lot of sci-fi, but missed this one. 

gnorance) to influence opinion.  In the last several months, "fake news" seems to have morphed into a polemical term to attack anything anyone doesn't particular like or choose to believe.  Though used in different ways currently, both ways are malicious and corrosive.


It can be tempting to see this solely as a political issue, or a byproduct of our increasingly polarized times. But you could argue as well it has deep, deep roots, and that adhering to things that are not true as if they are is something people do by nature.  Psychological studies have shown that when confronted with facts that directly contradict a strongly held belief, people are actually MORE likely to say that they hold to that opinion.


And, naturally, COD is not about to let the church think our s**t don't stink.  That's what Crusty does, and he don't take no vacations from that, even though he's writing this blog post beside the lake at the ancestral family cabin in New Hampshire.  Those in the church shouldn't be so high and mighty as we sneer at the poor rubes who hold to their political "fake news." Crusty would like to add that he is not trying to normalize this whole phenomenon of "fake news" by saying it's ubiquitous, or everyone does it: the opposite.  Crusty is trying to point out ways in which the church is complicit, that it purposefully and/or through ignorance, the church has put forth elements of our history that are not true, largely to support a particular conception of how the church should be, regardless of the underlying reality. So strap in, here's just a small selection of Crusty's top 5 "fake news" elements that he gathers many, if not most, Episcopalians and/or Anglicans hold to.


1.  Hooker's three-legged stool of Scripture, tradition, and reason.  The notion that we, as Episcopalians, cite Hooker as authoritative and definitive in defining our sources of authority: and Hooker spoke of a three-
Sorry, google images, these are both equally abhorrent.
legged stool, so that Anglicans balance Scripture, tradition, and reason.


There's several reasons why this is "fake news."


--Hooker NEVER mentioned a three-legged stool.  He does use a metaphor of plaiting a rope, and layering the strands of Scripture, tradition, and reason, with Scripture, the most important source, as the central cord around which tradition and reason are layered.


--Hooker does not use "reason" in the same sense that we do.  We think of reason as using our brain to make our own choices and decisions about things.  That's not what reason meant in the 16th century.  As heir to the scholastic tradition (in many ways, Hooker could be seen as one of the last scholastic theologians by method), reason is given to us by God to be able to discern God's revelation in the world around us: not to make our own decisions, but to see what God intends.  A subtle, but important, distinction.


--It'd be hard for Hooker strongly to influence Anglicanism when he was pretty much forgotten until about until the 19th century.  Hooker largely faded from Anglican consciousness:  Joseph Butler was far more influential in the late 18th and early 19th centuries than Hooker.  In the first course of study outlined by the Episcopal Church, the Course of Ecclesiastical Studies of 1804, Richard Hooker does not appear as one of the authors required to be read for ordination in the church. It was only in the 19th century his work was republished, and a Hooker renaissance began which rightly continues to this day.  It'd be more accurate to say Hooker has shaped modern Anglicanism's efforts to try to understand itself.


2.   Here's one Crusty has heard on more than one occasion:  "The Episcopal Church was created by the same people that drafted the U.S. Constitution, that's why there are so many similarities."


My God, where to deconstruct this one abomination of hubris?


--First off, the U.S. Constitution was written in 1787, the Episcopal Church constitution was written in 1789.  They weren't even drafted at the same time, and there was no overlap of individuals involved.  Yes, there were drafts of forms of church governance going around in 1787, but they looked
In 2060, people will probably think Hamilton was influenced by 1789 Constitution.
nothing like what was coming out of the Constitutional Convention.







Even though the Episcopal Church Constitution was approved in 1789, two years after the federal Constitution had been completed, had been circulated for approval, and received considerable discussion, the church constitution STILL did not show direct influences from the US Constitution.  Here are some key differences:

--The Episcopal Church created only a legislative body, with no judiciary or executive branch.  The central feature of the U.S. Constitution, of checks and balances, is nowhere to be found.  In the 1789 Constitution, there was bicameral legislative body, to be sure.  But so what?  States created bicameral governing bodies before the 1787 Constitution, so that's not even necessarily a direct influence.


--The Episcopal Church constitution created no chief executive -- the Presiding Bishop presided over the House of Bishops when it was in session once every three years, had hardly any other governance role.  There's nothing resembling a body to adjudicate differences in interpretation like a judiciary; only the legislative body can adjudicate differences by changing canons or the constitution.


--The bicameral legislature wasn't even really bicameral:  the original constitution allowed the House of Deputies to overrule the House of Bishops.  If the HOD passed something, and HOB didn't, by a 4/5ths vote, the HOD could override them and pass it anyway.


--There are some similarities.  There's some merit in the notion that anything not specifically outlined in the constitution could be left to individual dioceses.  There's the important sense that the people have a right to be involved in governance.  But a stronger case could be made that the 1787 federal constitution and 1789 Episcopal Church constitution are both drawing from the same influences in American society rather than any direct cause and effect.


This one is simply a hangover from an establishment mentality and a sense of exceptionalism.


3.  The Episcopal Church was always open, welcome, and accepting.  


Actually, for a large portion of its existence, the Episcopal Church was seen as fairly conservative.  We need to be careful of extrapolating back into the past some vision of a progressive Anglicanism.  

--Crusty often has students talk about the Elizabethan "Settlement" of the English Reformation as being perfectly understandable because Anglicanism is by nature open, affirming, and tolerant.  COD usually replies by saying, "Non Church of England marriages weren't recognized as legal until the mid-nineteenth century, and in colonial America non-Anglicans were taxed to support Anglican churches.  There's nothing inherently open and tolerant about Anglicanism."


--It was one the last mainline Protestant denominations (using that as sociological, not theological term, so please no indignant comments about how the Episcopal Church is not "Protestant"; COD wholeheartedly agrees with that ecclesiologically; "mainline Protestant" is a sociological and historical term) to ordain women.  The Methodist Church permitted women to be representatives to General Conference nearly fifty years before women could serve as deputies to General Convention, and women were granted full clergy status twenty years before the approval of the ordination of women in The Episcopal Church.


--The General Convention never issued any resolution of any kind on the war in Vietnam.  


--Yes, the Episcopal Church ordained Absalom Jones as priest in 1804, the first African American to be ordained in a predominantly white church.  But neither Jones nor his congregation were given voice or vote at diocesan conventions, so we could just as easily celebrate this not as an open and affirming gesture, but the establishment of de facto segregation.


--The Episcopal Church had some of the most conservative canons on divorce and remarriage until revisions in the 1960s.

This is not to debate the merit of changing the marriage canons or saying we shouldn't have ordained Jones if we didn't give him equal status, only noting the Episcopal Church took a number of stands, even in the past generation, that would very easily be seen as "conservative." And this is not to deny the Episcopal Church certainly did take some progressive stands, such as moving the 1955 General Convention from Texas to Honolulu when told that African American deputies would not be given equal access due to segregation laws.


The Episcopal Church did get involved in the labor movement, to the extent that a significant number of bishops signed on the Church Association for the Advancement of the Interest of Labor in the 1880s.  Yet this action itself showed how the church was largely understood as a staid, conservative entity.  This was considered so extraordinary a major US newspaper was astounded that the Episcopal Church, the church of power and money and privilege, had gotten behind the labor movement.


4.  The Episcopal Church didn't split over slavery, and came together again after the war seamlessly.


One the one hand, this is technically true.  However...


--The church did split.  There was this thing called the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America, PECCSA.  The church split over secession, which was based on slavery (every secession ordinance mentions slavery; the Confederate constitution made slavery the only thing that could never be changed by amendment; and nearly every congressman or Senator mentioned preserving slavery in their resignation speeches from the U.S. Congress).


--The reunion of the church is presented more or less as "the Southern bishops and dioceses returned to the 1865 General Convention and things continued as if they never left."  This is not the case.  Some southern dioceses and bishops did attend the 1865 Convention, on the argument that the PECCSA existed because the
Leonidas Polk, bishop and general, distinct from Leonidas from 300.
CSA existed; now that the CSA no longer existed, they returned to the Episcopal Church.  However, not all southern bishops held to this.  Several bishops and dioceses did not attend on the grounds that they had left the Episcopal Church and formed another church, and could only rejoin the Episcopal Church once the PECCSA was dissolved, which a rump group of southern bishops and dioceses met to dissolve, and only after that rejoined the Episcopal Church.  


Perhaps most importantly....IT'S NOT AS IF NOT SPLITTING OVER SLAVERY IS SOMETHING TO BE PROUD OF.  The reason other churches split over slavery is because they took a stand on slaveholding.  Episcopalians had more important things to take a stand on and to commit the grave sin of schism over, like in 1873 over whether it was OK to have candles on the altar and reserve the sacrament, rather than whether it was OK to own another human being.


4.  The Episcopal Church isn't "evangelical."


Here we are dealing with particular baggage from our American context.  The word "evangelical" has a complex history in the Christian world, and even more so in the United States.  The evangelical revival of the and the Great Awakening had tremendous influence on global Christianity and American Christianity, summed up in historian Martin Marty's quip that "in America, everyone is at least a little bit Baptist."  However, in the 20th century the term "evangelical" has gone through more phases and mutations than the membership of Fleetwood Mac; it weaves in and out of fundamentalism, Pentecostalism, neo-evangelicalism, and classic evangelicalism, with a healthy dose of involvement in reform and renewal movements.  "Evangelical" now seems to mean, roughly, "conservative Christian."  The term has become so amorphous and so divorced from its history some persons are declining to call themselves evangelicals; Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Church, certainly no liberal, has written that "Many of those who tell pollsters they are “evangelical” may well be drunk right now, and haven’t been into a church since someone invited them to Vacation Bible School sometime back when Seinfeld was in first-run episodes."


Students in my classes are often shocked, sometimes horrified, one student notably offended, when I tell them that in the 19th century the Episcopal Church had a large and influential evangelical party.  I
Bad at theology and math both apparently.
tell them about Alexander Viets Griswold, who was a bishop as well as a parish Rector in the days when bishops had day jobs, who would have altar calls where he would then administer confirmation to those who came forward.  I then trace the decline of the evangelical party, which never really went away entirely, and the development of the low church movement.  I remember one person saying "Well thank God for that."  I asked why, and the student replied, "Because it wasn't really Anglican was it?"  My response was, "Tell that the vast numbers of evangelicals in the Anglican world."  Sometimes the response is, "Yes, I know there are evangelicals in Africa."  Yet the Church of England, Church of Ireland, and Anglican Church in Australia (among others) all have prominent evangelical wings.  There's a seminary of the Episcopal Church rooted firmly in the evangelical party of the Anglican world.  There are churches in Africa and Asia that are not predominantly evangelical, and in fact have significant high church components.


The problem with the ignorance of the evangelical movement in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican world is twofold.


--First, it feeds into a narrative that presumes our current incarnation of The Episcopal Church is somehow eternal and normative.  Therefore, the 19th century evangelical party must have been an aberration because it is unlike our current experience.  Well, our current incarnation of Anglicanism will probably look like an aberration in a hundred years; there has always been significant development.  We only started having the Eucharist as the norm for weekly worship in the past generation.  We cannot presume any incarnation of Anglicanism is normative, only see how it is part of a broader development of a tradition over a thousand years old, and how it preserves a continuity of worship and belief while adapting to context.


--Ignorance of the Episcopal Church's evangelical past increasingly puts us at odds with the broader Anglican world, which has vibrant and diverse evangelical movements.  If we take the baggage of our American context, ignorance of our own past history, and project that onto the broader diversity of global Christianity, we run the risk of a slow drift of inability to understand one another, like the Eastern and Western churches did after the collapse of the eastern Roman Empire.  The schism of 1054 was not so much a rupture as the result of hundreds of years of slow, gradual drifting apart through lack of contacts and inability to understand one another.  I fear we are doing the same in the Anglican world.


5.   That anything has been the way it currently is for more than a generation or so.  Let me be clear, there are some things that do have continuity throughout the history of Christianity and held by the vast majority of Christians: divinity of Jesus, two sacraments established by Christ, an ordered ministry (note: this is not an exhaustive list).  And within what we call Anglican Christianity, there's a threefold ordering of ministry, an authorized liturgy, communion with the see of Canterbury (note: not an attempt as an exhaustive list).  When I speak of change and development in the church, Crusty is not saying we throw everything out every generation.  Not at all.  But all too often our ignorance of our past makes us think that somehow the way things are is the way things always have been.


COD could give dozens upon dozens of examples.  Here's one: back when he was not Crusty, just a humble layperson, Crusty was attending a congregation where he served on the worship committee.  The discussion was about finding Sunday supply during the rector's sabbatical.  Crusty mentioned, "Well maybe we could do Morning Prayer on fifth Sundays as a way to ease the scheduling burden."  COD was informed "That's not really church, here we do the Eucharist on Sunday mornings.  That's UCC."  Crusty said, "It wasn't until 1986 that this church had weekly communion, it did Eucharist first, third, and fifth Sundays and Morning Prayer with sermon on second and fourth Sundays."  The conversation was taking place in 1994.  The person speaking was not a newcomer, and had been attending for 20 years.  Now, one can discuss all you want as to whether it's wise or proper or even good theology, but the one thing, in that context, that could not be argued, is that the parish had never done it before.  


You may ask, Why is this all important?  Why are you so worked up, Crusty?  Well, this fake news matters for several reasons.


--The myths we cling to often tell us more about ourselves and our current context than the supposed historical events.  


The myth of the Episcopal Church Constitution being hand-in-glove with the US Constitution is a fantasy spun by an Episcopal Church with delusions of establishment grandeur.  


The myth that the Episcopal Church didn't split over slavery takes this exceptionalism and joins it with our unwillingness to look at our own complicity with structures of racism and oppression.


And we could go on.  


--Ignorance of our past will only compound our problems.  Because of its American context, the Episcopal Church already has strong impulses towards localism; as a church born out of the American Revolution, we have devolved considerable governance and authority to dioceses and congregations.  Combining an impetus towards localism with an inability to see how things have been different can cause us to lose significant portions of our own tradition.  Some more examples...


The Episcopal Church used to start, close, and merge dioceses all the time.  Western Nebraska, Duluth, Western Colorado, COD could go on and on.  We now seem to think our number of dioceses were written down in the Torah, and talk of merger or realignment routinely goes nowhere.  We have a number of dioceses that are simply not viable.  We need to realign, combine, reconfigure.  We used to do this.  


We used to start and close congregations all the time, on a large scale as recently as the 1950s.  Within a generation we seem to have lost the ability to do this, though thankfully there are signs of rebirth in many corners.


Taking our failure of nerve and undergirding it with an ignorance of our past robs us of tools we have used in the past to be more missionally focused


So where did this fake news come from?  

There's lots of reasons for the preponderance of fake news.  

--There's a failure to take adult catechesis seriously in any way, shape or form.  When COD was a college chaplain, a handful of students came to him and said, "Could you do a confirmation class for us, like an overview of the basics of Christianity and the Episcopal Church?" Sure, I replied, and said I'd get in touch with the bishop's office to see when the next confirmation was.  "No," they replied, "We're already confirmed."  Some of them had only one session of Confirmation prep.  Several had absolutely none.  This is an extreme example, to be sure, and there are notable exceptions, but in many ways we have simply failed in any kind of adult formation or catechesis, throwing in the towel when we don't get the numbers we want at the bible study held in between services instead of trying to find other ways.



--Crusty has taught in the seminary world for 15 years now and the number of courses in history and theology has shrunk.  COD took four entry level, introductory courses in history and/or theology that were required for the MDiv all the way back in 1993.  It's common in many programs to have two, in some just one single course covering an overview of history and theology.  To be sure, there's good reason for this:  we have broadened the curriculum to include lots of other important training, with increased emphasis on praxis and leadership.  But Crusty knows someone who graduated from seminary who took three required liturgy courses and only two required history courses.  Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.


--We make this fake news an excuse for our failure of nerve.  Instead of clinging to this fake news,
A new three-legged stool?
we should be looking at the elements which made us believe in it in the first place.  We cannot account for the systems of racism and oppression in the church unless we take an honest look at our own past.  We cannot figure out how to respond to this missional context unless we can learn from how we have done so, repeatedly, in the past.  Otherwise we run the danger of becoming like the Ministry of Truth in Orwell's 1984, constantly rewriting our understanding of history to reflect and uphold our present.