A failure to communicate

That about sums up the General Convention on Wednesday, June 14th. “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” This is a famous quote from the movie Cool Hand Luke.

The quote is attributed to "Captain, Road Prison 36," who was played by Strother Martin. (see Ask Yahoo) Here is the entire quote: “What we've got here is failure to communicate. Some men you just can't reach, so you get what we had here last week which is the way he wants it. Well, he gets it. And I don't like it any more than you men.” Paul Newman as Cool Hand Luke later mocks the Captain using the first line.

Well there it is: Wednesday felt like a failure to communicate. Events both big and small contributed to this feeling:

The House of Deputies did one very good thing: It elected Bonnie Anderson as the President of the House of Deputies. It was an easy vote. She was the only candidate, with no opposition. She will be very good indeed in that office. The voting went easily.

The same could not be said for a more complex election – that for members of the Church Pension Fund board. After an exercise of over an hour in trying to vote, we produced a failed electronic ballot, a mountain of frustration and a parliamentary muddle. So we will try again tomorrow, using a paper ballot.

Otherwise the legislative process is churning along.

The real failure to communicate concerns the hearings in the evening. I spent most of the evening at the Program, Budget and Finance hearing on spending requests. The statements about the programs were emotionally eloquent (mine was pretty much a failure), but very few provided explicit information. Testimony seemed to be gauged to “winning hearts,” an admirable activity to be sure but not of much substance. I don’t know if the hearing produced anything in the way of new information.

What was good is the large crowd that came to the spending hearing. It was in competition with the open hearing on the Special Committee on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. The sign up to speak at the PB&F hearing was at 7 PM and when I arrived promptly at 7 to do so, the line was already over sixty deep. There were finally 90 or so requests to speak.

Upstairs and down the hall the Special Committee was having its hearing. I caught only the end of that session but heard the Archbishop of York speak. Every person testifying was given two minutes, but he went on for several more minutes, even though warned by the time keeper that his time was up. It is hard, I suppose, to tell the Archbishop to shut up. It seemed easier to do so in other cases.

He should not have spoken at all, or perhaps by invitation at a regular session of the Committee. What he had to say was an important perspective, and I believe his intentions were right and good. He is not, however, one’s usual witness, and he is not in any way responsible to the community of General Convention for the implications of his comments. When he opined that the current resolutions were not strong enough to satisfy the expectations of the Windsor Report, the Archbishop was miscommunicating by producing a very loud noise in an otherwise modulated conversation. He was a speaker with the volume turned up so high as to produce distortions.

The Rev.Nigel J. Taber-Hamilton was at the whole of the hearing and produced the following helpful tabulation of speakers for and against the resolutions:

“Those people speaking against the Special Commission/Committee resolutions because they went too far: 18 (mostly against resolutions A161/ A162)

Against because the resolutions don’t go far enough toward Windsor: 8

Those speaking generally about implementing all of Windsor: 8

Those speaking in favor of the resolutions 11

Those speaking generally 3”

His final tabulations / best guess as to the meaning of it all was this:

“Total speaking against (too far + not far enough + must completely implement Windsor: 34 or 75.6%. Total speaking for: 11 or 24.4%"

He said, "My own feeling – this is representative of what will happen on the floor of the House of Deputies. It will mean that the resolutions will fail. This is especially likely if there is a vote by orders.”

If Nigel is right, and this is representative, the resolutions might well fail. But of course the hearings were not for the middle, but for the edges of the debate. Perhaps the middle is larger than this. We shall see.

Here is the problem: If the Committee fails to communicate through the resolutions a middle way sufficiently broad to attract wide support, the combination of those who think the resolutions too stringent and those who think they do not go far enough will together produce a stalemate on the floor, a stalemate which will be recorded as a defete of the resolutions.

The real failure to communicate is bound up with having to discuss these matters in the context of legislative processes at all. Voting against the propositions will be viewed as a rejection of the requests of the Windsor Report, but voting for the propositions will be viewed variously as capitulating or inadequately responding. There seems to be no adequate room for a positive response that gives light, but does not blind and gives heat but does not burn.

The legislative process is not subtle enough to provide us with a process for nudging the ecclesial ship to one side or the other of the obstacle in its path. Instead it gives us only the possibilities of putting the engines in reverse or plowing on ahead. And those who would like to nudge the ship this way or that are finding that the information on the size of the rock is flawed. We are not sure we can get around it even if we want to. We are not sure we can slow down enough not to run into it. So what do we communicate to the engine room, or to the tugs pushing against our side?

Well, the metaphors abound, but the work goes on. Perhaps, today, Thursday, there will be new communication, and perhaps even revelation.

We live indeed in Hope.


  1. I prayed at Morning Prayer this morning for you not to despair. This works. Keep your chin up and have a great day.

  2. Bear in mind Hannah Arendt's distinction between a work and an act, the former characterized by a goal, agreed means to that end, and faithful execution of the plan; the latter may well be ambiguous in these respects, certainly so if the act, like any legislative act, is a collective event.

    We do not need to emulate the "works" of the Anglican primates or bishops, full of exposition and prescription. GC 2003 committed "acts" not "works" and so should GC 2006: an ambiguous silence is much to be preferred over the dreary alternatives.

  3. I agree with your comments RE: ++York. What he did (and how he did it) was, in polite Episcopalian lingo, "not helpful."

    Added to the "not helpful" column were +Durham's recent comments. Not only unhelpful, but downright impolite and bordering on hysterical (for an Englishman at any rate). I mean really, "+Robinson consecration = Iraq War" ?!?

    Maybe these CoE gentlemen need to be politely asked to mind their own beeswax... :)

  4. Widening Gyre15/6/06 3:40 PM

    Nice post on the problems with using the legislative process to handle this sort of discussion. Of course, it was the same "legislative process" from GC 2003 (you know, the election of Gene Robinson followed laid out procedures, yaddda yadda yadda) that got us here so what can you do?

    Really nice metaphor about the ship, the rocks and the engine room. All I can think about is Kirk yelling for more power and Scotty replying, "Duhn give me too many bumps sir, I've gaht 'er lit up like a Christmas Tree."

  5. Widening Gyre15/6/06 3:43 PM

    Nice post about the problems with using the legislative process to do theology. Of course, many could argue we got into this mess because we used that same process at GC 2003 rather than doing theology. What can you do?

    Especially liked the ship, rock and engine metaphor. Reminded me of Kirk yelling for more power and Scotty replying, "Eye'm dooin me best Cap'n, but she's lit up like a Christmas Tree."

  6. Widening Gyre15/6/06 3:46 PM

    Sorry for the re-post. not sure what just happened there after I got my first error message. Weird. I apologize.

  7. Voting against the propositions will be viewed as a rejection of the requests of the Windsor Report, but voting for the propositions will be viewed variously as capitulating or inadequately responding.

    Isn't this really the point? Whatever TEC does, we will be condemned.

    Ergo, there's really no incentive to not listen to conscience (the part of ourselves best tuned to the Holy Spirit) and, to quote Martin Luther, "sin boldly!" ;-D

    [JMO, if anyone cares: accept the Special Commission's recommendations re episcopal consecrations: "with considerable caution"---let the voter understand this means another +Duncan, as much if not more than another +Robinson! Amend the S.C. re blessings: for sake of pastoral care we MUST go forward on this one. No more closets!!!

    I defer to sharper minds/purer hearts, re the rest (except to add: tell the "'08 Lambeth Party-host" we're a-comin'. Whatever the guestlist, we're comin'! :-D)]

    Prayers for you Mark, and all of GC: Come Lord Jesus!

  8. "Prayers for you Mark, and all of GC: Come Lord Jesus!"


    "God grant us the serenity to accept the things we can not change and the courange to change the things we can."

    Acceptance and courage...sometimes they turn my faith inside-out.

    Leonardo Ricardo

    (why is it that I can never log-in properly here?)


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