Monday, April 24, 2017

Turnings -- a Series (I)

Spring has been slow to come to the Sierras this year. Interspersed with periods of cold and freezing, we have experienced the heaviest rainfall thus far in our recorded history. It is raining even more as I write. The official season will not end until September 30, so the new record being set will keep pushing higher until then.

The copious precipitation is keeping, and will keep, our meadows and fields greener longer than ever this year. Normally they start to turn brown in early to mid-May (which is the usual start of California's "dry" season). The wildflowers are running riot, and the birds and the bees have plenty to do before the weather warms up.

With spring this year came Easter, of course. And with Easter came some significant changes in your Curmudgeon's household.

I still link to this post on the masthead of this blog, because it describes a significant milestone for me: it marks the date I decided I could no longer be a member of ECUSA, due to the blasphemous marriage rites adopted by the House of Bishops in General Convention. Although I had been a member ever since my earliest years (I was baptized into our local parish as an infant, and started singing in the choir at the age of four), June 30, 2015 marks the date when I became a wanderer in search of a denomination. ECUSA itself was irretrievably corrupted, and the choices available within even an hour's driving time were severely limited.

I still cherish nothing but warm feelings for the parish that raised me, and as they remain fully orthodox, I have trespassed upon their generosity by continuing to attend Sunday communion there. But the dichotomy of being now a guest in what was once my home has caused the connection I felt since childhood to be lost. It used to be a coherent part of a larger body for me, but now appears (I speak only for myself) disembodied. Moreover, the parish is undergoing a transition to a new (and as yet unknown) rector, and what it will be like in another year's time is very much an open question (in which I have, for the first time, no role to play).

Meanwhile, my dear wife of forty-five years patiently suffered through this time of limbo with me, until finally she could drift untethered no longer. Following up on an interest that she had developed from our attending a conference of the American Chesterton Society, she began taking instruction last year as a candidate who would follow in the path of that great man (and his wife). At an Easter vigil ceremony on April 15 this year, she was formally received into our local Roman Catholic Church.

And so for the time being (just as the Chestertons were, because Frances was too Anglican to follow G.K. into Catholicism immediately), we are a denominationally divided household. Though we both may of course still attend services and sit and pray together, I cannot take communion any longer with my wife, as she can no longer take communion with me. (If there were an Anglican Ordinariate parish within driving distance, our joint decision might be far less difficult.)

This temporary state of affairs has spurred me to look into just why it must be so. Of course I know the historical reasons, but I know just as certainly that there will not be any denominations after the Second Coming. So if we as Christians will not look to them in the future, why exactly do we have need of them and their arbitrary boundaries now? Salvation is a matter of faith through God's grace -- even the Lutherans and the Roman Catholics have reached agreement on that much. The other things that divide us are things that the Second Coming will render irrelevant, such as the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, or the catechism, or the prayer book.

Blogging has fallen away precisely because of my preoccupation with these (for me) vital questions. With the five hundredth anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation this year, I have been spending my available time going back through the history of those momentous times, in an effort better to understand how we Christians all ended up where we are today.

Scholars appear to agree that Luther did not intend to start a new denomination, but his own temper and acerbity provoked his opponents to meeting his attacks with wounding parries of their own. Nevertheless, there was not just one Reformation between 1517 and 1648, but many, once Luther gained the princes' attention (with the help of the printing press), and once the momentum he built up then spread across national borders.

There was no one driving force behind these individual movements. Instead, it appears to be a case of many pressures having built up to the point that the customary boundaries of religion and society could not withstand the internal and external onslaughts from so many directions at once.

Likewise, as we today appear to be heading into the end times, there are many currents that threaten, just as they did in the 16th century, to overwhelm and engulf what traditional religious outposts remain to provide society's glue. The secular forces of today are allied as they have never been before by their common contempt for the principles of orthodox Christianity -- by which I mean the faith once handed down to us by the saints. For that matter, the defenders of those principles appear as few and far between.

It is too early in my explorations for me to say whether I will eventually be able to bid Anglicanism goodbye, since its spirit still runs strong in my veins -- no matter how much the weak-willed Welbys of the world appear bent on diluting it. But as I foreshadowed in many posts here long ago, the tocsin is now sounding the passing of the Church of England; its days as a single denomination are numbered. And once the mother salt loses its saltiness, of what use is it to the rest of us Anglicans?

Although I have long considered myself in the tradition of Anglo-Catholics, it is the patrimony of Cranmer, Hooker and Jewel -- and their identification with the Catholic traditions that came before -- that I cherish more than any label of the service that I attend. I respect those worthies' attempts to stay Catholic (i.e., retain the saltiness of their mother church) within the bounds that the English monarchy's own selfish desires set for them. And Sir Thomas More remains one of my great heroes precisely because he refused to yield up to the demands of his monarch his faithfulness to his church.

Luther, though, is a different story. For one thing, unlike the other heroes I have been mentioning, he was inseparable from his own ego, even while he no doubt believed in his heart he was unable to do (or stand) other than as he did. But his sheer inability to see other points of view made him into a one-note record: he either drowned you out, or drove you away, and he cared not which, just so long as you ceased offering opposition to his views. There was nothing to admire in his scorn for Erasmus, who tried so hard to keep Luther from burning all the bridges that originally tied him to Catholicism. After their final and very public rupture in 1526, the rest is history. And western Christianity has never recovered, but become only more and more splintered.

So as I continue with my readings and researches, I hope to put before you from time to time some preliminary results, as well as pointers toward future and further inquiries, along my path to a new discernment. I invite you, as always, to share your civil comments and insights as you are moved to do so by what appears here. And I thank you for your patience and indulgence as this old dog tries to find a place where he may lay his head. Please keep us in your prayers -- may God bless you all.








Saturday, April 1, 2017

Episcopal Church Forms Title Company, Acquires Law Firm

Unable to obtain title policies any more on any of the thousands of properties held at the national, diocesan or local parish level, the Episcopal Church (USA) announced plans today to use part of its endowment to establish its own company to provide title insurance for its members. At the same time, ECUSA announced it has acquired a national law firm in an effort to control its litigation expenses, which reportedly are out of control.

"The [title insurance] problem appears to be with our [so-called] Dennis Canon," said a Church spokesperson at the national headquarters in New York City. After a full review of the more than 90 cases in which the title to church property has been disputed in the last sixteen years, the national association of title insurance companies recommended last month that no further title policies be given to any parish, diocese or other entity affiliated with ECUSA, or to any person purchasing property from any Church unit.

"All we have been told," the spokesperson continued, "is that multiple uncertainties over the meaning, application and effect of the Dennis Canon, as demonstrated by the extremely variegated reception it has had in State courts across the country, make it impossible for title companies reasonably to assess the risks of insuring such properties. And without being able to assess the risks, they are unable to set any premiums for such coverage. So, if a property was ever at any time arguably under the strictures of the Dennis Canon, they just won't issue a policy for it any more."

Asked whether it was a problem that the Dennis Canon purports to create a nationwide trust in favor of ECUSA that is unrecorded in any State, the spokesperson admitted: "We understand that is a significant part of the problem, yes."

And why can't the Church simply proceed to record trust documents in every State, to get around that problem?

"Well, that's why we resorted to the Canon in the first place," the spokesperson responded. "We simply could never count on the over 7,000 individual parishes across the country agreeing to sign such documents. So we just created the trust on our own -- and it worked very well for the first twenty years, because no one ever noticed what we had done. But ever since that case in South Carolina -- the Wiccam case, or whatever its name was -- there have been nearly a hundred cases brought either to enforce or to nullify Dennis Canon trusts."

"And we've reached a decision, just like the title companies, that we can't continue in this fashion. So we're forming our own Title Insurance Company of The Episcopal Church for Terrae Omni Ecclesiae -- that Latin part means 'all Church properties'.  That abbreviates as TICTECTOE, which we think is rather a handy mnemonic for our clergy and vestries."

In a separate announcement today, ECUSA gave a nod to its burgeoning litigation activity on all fronts, which to date has included: (1) filing suit against its own Church Insurance Company; (2) being sued by its own former employees; and (3) bringing suit against the donor of one of its most valuable properties, to say nothing of (4) suing over 90 of its former parishes, dioceses, bishops, and clergy. The statement released from its 815 Second Avenue headquarters reads as follows:
The Episcopal Church (USA) is pleased to announce its acquisition of the national law firm of Dewey Sooem and Howe, in order to bring the handling of all civil and ecclesiastical litigation under one roof. "We see this as a natural continuation of our policy to serve Jesus by having all our legal matters handled in house," said Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.

In order to avoid violating legal professional norms, all partners in the famed firm have agreed to accept priestly orders in the Church; associates will be ordained as deacons. While the salaries they will be paid will not even approach what they had earned in their own firm, a partner said off the record that they were handsomely compensated by the buyout, and further that, as clergy, they could now look forward to the extremely generous benefits paid by the Church Pension Fund.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry stated that the $160 million expense of the acquisition will be offset by future savings in fees paid to outside law firms in the various States, which Curry said had cost the Church and its 110 dioceses over $60 million to date. "We will make up the cost in just five to eight years," he said. "From that point forward, litigation for the Church will be an addition to our bottom line, instead of the constant subtraction it has been till now. Moreover, when not busy with litigation, the firm's members will be available for us as supply priests for all the new missions we are hoping to establish in the coming years. So from our point of view, it's all win-win."

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Slouching Towards Socialism

It seems I am constrained to commenting these days on politics. (Religion news is akin to reporting that "there is a Beast slouching towards Bethlehem.")

The recent fiasco in Congress over repealing and replacing Obamacare was the result of an inability to obtain agreement, even among so-called "Republicans", that more welfare is not the answer to what is plaguing the American Republic.

That proposition should have earned the unqualified assent of every Republican Congressperson elected to office last November. That it did not is the measure of the State's degeneration to date, under both parties.

During Obama's eight years, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed dozens and dozens of measures repealing Obamacare. They went nowhere, thanks to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Democratic President Barack Obama.

But now, when Republicans control the White House and both houses of Congress, they were unable to undo the regulatory disaster that is Obamacare for once and for all. Why?

The answer may not be popular, but here it is, in plain black and white:

Obamacare is welfare, plain and simple. Americans are hooked on welfare (the government paying for things that people used to obtain privately, whether on their own or though private charity). Rather than simply pass a bill repealing all of Obamacare, the Republican leadership tried to replace the welfare of Obamacare with a new form of welfare. And they could not get all of their colleagues in the party to agree to it -- because there are still some Republicans, at least, who think that subsidizing health care is not the proper function of the federal Government.

There are two major reasons why that stance is correct.

First, Government-run welfare programs are a guaranteed road to deficits and disaster. Look at how well Obamacare has fared, and look at the 225-plus years of the U.S. Postal Service. The reason is plain, but no bureaucrat will admit it: in welfare run by the government, there is no accountability to the bottom line. The tab for any and all deficits is simply picked up by "the taxpayers."

Second, people naturally value things only as they have to pay for them. Paying people's medical costs for them -- even with the absurd "deductibles" recently set under Obamacare -- keeps them from learning what are the real costs of the health care that they demand. And paying so that pre-existing conditions will be covered without question guarantees that people will not ever pay for health care coverage before they have need of it. Once again, the taxpayers are left with the deficits.

Notwithstanding those self-evident truths, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (and President Trump) tried to railroad through the House a replacement for Obamacare that would have kept Americans on medical welfare. The only thing to lament is that there were so few genuinely conservative Republicans who voted to block their attempt. But at least it was enough for the moment.

As America sinks ever deeper into the mire of unaccountable and unaffordable government, may those who see clearly come to dominate the current trend and reverse its course. We have not come this far only to abandon all that we stood for when we declared our independence, and to succumb again to serfdom under a (this time, self-imposed) tyranny.

Obamacare should indeed be repealed (along with the restriction of offering insurance across State borders). But there is no necessity whatever to replace it, and certainly not at the federal level. Let those States who have a majority of socialists vote in their own welfare programs, and let the markets decide what works best.