Sweeping House: Some Thoughts

Some observations about sweeping house:

Jesus: "… what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? (Luke 15:8)

Jesus: "When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but it finds none. Then it says, 'I will return to my house from which I came.' When it comes, it finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So will it be also with this evil generation." (Matt 12:43-45)

Martin Luther : "The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays — not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps but because God loves clean floors."

Mao: "Everything reactionary is the same; if you don't hit it, it won't fall. This is also like sweeping the floor; as a rule, where the broom does not reach, the dust will not vanish of itself."

To put it simply: Sweeping house can reveal that which was lost; it can simply clean to no good end; it can clean and clear things up; oh and by the way, where the broom does not reach, treasure might be missed, the floor remains dirty and the hope of God remains unfinished.

Sweeping House

A week ago most of us in Anglican Blogland swept out the cobwebs of too much Anglican messiness and got down to some serious Holy Week matters, and for a few brief moments it looked as if various reflections on the events recalled that week were foremost on our minds. On the whole I was heartened by the range of meditations and reflections. Not all were of the same caliber, not all were reflections on the Easter event itself.

It was too good to last, and indeed even during the week there was the smell of locked brakes, tires on fire and the leaking of oil on the road. All of which made it painfully apparent that no matter how much Christians are bound together and brought to a halt by the recalling of those last Days and the amazement of the New Dawn and the Resurrection, Anglicans were multitasking away and in another universe of play where in the fast lane, wreckage, like death, is always near and sometimes the only friend we have. Now, with Easter receding into the rear view mirror, we return to the events in play in Anglican Land where the stakes are high and as Leonard Cohen sings, " everybody's got this broken feeling that their father or their dog just died." It will be hard not to get depressed by it all. But let's not do that; rather let us sweep house.

I suspect these have not been an easy few weeks for the Presiding Bishop: in the midst of a very busy travel schedule which included a major trip to Palestine and Israel she had to rely upon assistants back at the office to get things done decently and in order. It would appear that several balls were dropped, or if not dropped not given the supporting follow-up needed.

The dissatisfaction with the words and actions of the Presiding Bishop is reflected not only in the mutterings of the dissenter community, but also in concerns raised by some progressives and moderates. A more robust (and God knows I hate that word) defense is needed of the claims that (i) the votes on the depositions of Bishops Schofield and Cox were valid and in order, (ii) that deposition, while a grave matter, is not in any way a maligning of character, but a confirmation of the reality that abandonment has happened (iii) that the special convention called in San Joaquin is extraordinary but valid, and (iv) that the Presiding Bishop's refusal to recognize the Standing Committee of San Joaquin as the ecclesiastical authority is appropriate.

Little things irk and the ire of the righteous rises: Bishop Cox seems to have been misnamed in his role as bishop in Maryland; he has been turned into a martyred old man in some circles; there is an abiding feeling that the canons are being used, not followed – that they are simply tools for the clever and no safety for the simple. For some the house cleaning has only given opportunity for seven new demons to enter. Others got into a snit about the Presiding Bishop's Message for Easter. They declared that this was evidence that the Presiding Bishop was not Christian and interested primarily in bovine flatulence.

It is reasonably certain that nothing will satisfy the dissenters. But there are a wide range of Episcopalians who are concerned that when the struggles are over that there will continue to be a broad church base that includes people from across the spectrum of opinion on a variety of issues. This is not a time to "get rid" of troublemakers. It is a time to say to those who will not or cannot abide this Church that they are released from this community. This is a time to embrace all who are willing to continue to live in the same house with all our differences and understandings, and to the rest say goodbye. The Presiding Bishop will need the very best from staff to make sure what is done is done well. At the same time the staff will have to work with others to provide a robust defense of the sweeping.

It is a time to sweep house in the hopes that this Church might be a community unencumbered by those who believe the Episcopal Church is anti-Christ, or heretical, or unredeemable and unorthodox, or defunct. It is time to invite those who believe such things to leave. It is time to name those who have already left.

The object of sweeping house is to get rid of the dust, dirt and wreckage and perhaps to uncover or reveal something of value somehow lost in the encumbering junk that has been accumulated. We can do that. It will require our best but that requirement has not been always met. We have to hold ourselves to the highest expectations of hospitality on the one hand and to the honest naming of irreconcilable differences on the other. And we need to take care, for in sweeping house we can inadvertently be preparing the house for new demons. If we are to avoid that we need to make place for as many as possible and make it clear that we do so within the bounds of common practice, prayer and order.

In the Mansion there are rooms for many people, more than any righteous person would want or expect, but then God seems to be that way, more welcoming than most of us can imagine. It's our only hope.

Otherwise there is only the fast lane where the racing fans and some yokel from Indiana are the winners and all the rest of us are road kill.


  1. Amen, Sir

    And all this housekeeping needs to be done with these words in mind:

    "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you!"


  2. Perhaps you ought to at least entertain the possibility that there continue to be problems with the PB's various actions because there's a problem with the PB. Even paranoids sometimes have real enemies.

  3. It is a time to say to those who will not or cannot abide this Church that they are released from this community. This is a time to embrace all who are willing to continue to live in the same house with all our differences and understandings, and to the rest say goodbye.

    Your statement is one I've waited for a long time -- because I know how liberals act. As a minority and when not in political power, they talk about stretching the rules and the importance of openness -- in the service of their agenda.

    And once in power, liberals suddenly do an about-face and crack down on dissenters.

    And sure enough, here it is. As predictable as ever.

    I saw it in academia. Just give us a few poststructuralists, you know, to get some people up on the latest critical theories. And since poststructuralists worship power above all else, they immediately set to the task of gaining power and purging anyone else.

    In fairness, though, you guys are nowhere near as bad as the poststructuralists. At the end of the day, you'll have captured The Episcopal Church. Congratulations!

    BTW, many, many of us have already left. Fortunately, in my case, it was an enormous blessing.

    Also by the way, my disagreement is with liberals is not so much what they believe. It was the coup of taking over a national church that was the problem. If they'd actually started their own church, it wouldn't be so bad. But to take over churches, to take endowment money dedicated to a different set of beliefs, to drive people out of the church ... that's, well, not cool.

    Bill @ Bill's Notes industrialblog.powerblogs.com

  4. "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're NOT all out to get you."

    Sitting up here in Canada, it appears that some of the Presiding Bishop's actions may have been ill-advised, particularly regarding her treatment of the disputed members of the San Joaquin standing committee.

    But on the matter of the depositions, the wording of the constitution and canons is not the sole issue.

    Constitutions and canons are always open to interpretation - particularly when they are being applied to unusual circumstances. After all, that is why both of our countries have a Supreme Court whose task it is to rule on how our respective constitutions apply in particular cases.

    These were not the first bishops ever to have been found to have abandoned the communion of the Episcopal Church. (The sidebar argument that "communion of this church" properly refers to the Anglican Communion is primae facie idiotic since the Anglican Communion per se did not exist at the time the canon itself was written.)

    So, the principle test is, were the rules applied in this case in the same way that they had been applied in previous cases.

    From what I have been able to glean, no conservative or "conservative" is making that argument. The argument presented is that the rules do not conform to the words.

    Well, if the same process was applied previously and found sufficient (which appears to be the case) then there is an established precedent for what process should be followed in applying the canon.

    As near as I can see, if the Conger argument were applied, not only would these two cases be overturned, but so would (virtually) every other such finding in the ~220 year history of the Episcopal Church as a duly constituted body.

    Is Mr. Conger arguing that the Bishop of Peru who was found to be complicit in financial irregularities should be reinstated?

    Well, yes he is - whether that is what he intends or not.

  5. Some yokel from Indiana?

    Seems to me Delaware has plenty of yokels, though we're pleased you think of us first when you need to complete a racing analogy.

  6. josh indiana...I knew this would happen, and then I'd have to admit that yes, Delaware is full of yokels. Many of us are slow yokels at that. Now of course the Delaware gang will be on my case.

    Perhaps I'll learn.

  7. It is interesting, Mark Harris, that you offer some of us the opportunity to depart -- even to be swept out.

    If all is well except for those of us who "dissent" something is wrong with my count. The Episcopal Church has dwindled from some 3.5 million in 1960 to roughly half of that today. Apparently millions needed no invitation to depart or be swept out. Tens of thousands more are currently leaving. No sweeping necessary here.

    Will there be an Episcopal Church, my home for many decades? Of course. Will it have any particular relevance to the spiritual life of this country? Not likely. Will it stir up controversy? Probably. But the controversy will diminish in intensity as more and more of your fellow Episcopalians opt for other offers in Anglicanism.

    I pray for your success in maintaining some continuity in this developing shell, but I am afraid what will remain are some real properties, a substantial investment pool, a small group enjoying their earthly power, and probably not much else.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with comment moderation but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.