The current State of Affairs in the USofA and The Episcopal Church.


Preludium was mostly shut down these past two weeks by the invasion of realities that both delighted and exhausted. Life lived fully is the best answer to the mind and heart numbing muck up in the political and religious lands we inhabit.

We spent ten days with a six year old and a two and a half year old, grandchildren extraordinaire (of course), and that was proceeded by five good days with members of the Philippine Independent Church (PIC or IFI) and two days with Executive Council where I attended my last EC meeting as a member.  Those two days were both frustrating and poignant.  It was an honor to serve on Executive Council but I cannot say that I am sad that my term is up. The last several meetings were difficult.

So here it is a bright sunny day in Lewes, the little town on the bay by the big water, and I am playing a little Warren Zevon to provide a bit of a beat to accompany the joys of spring.  Of course Zevon is mightily depressing, so of course my mind wanders to the question:  where do things in Anglican Land and other realms stand?

Where do things stand in the good ol' USofA?

1. First off, about the realm called the United States of America - I think we are in the midst of a nervous breakdown. We are beginning to realize that the American Dream and the American realities don't match. Zevon found words for this growing realization in his song, "Disorder in the House."

Disorder in the house
The tub runneth over
Plaster's falling down in pieces by the couch of pain

Disorder in the house
Time to duck and cover
Helicopters hover over rough terrain

Disorder in the house
Reptile wisdom
Zombies on the lawn staggering around

Disorder in the house
There's a flaw in the system
And the fly in the ointment's gonna bring the whole thing down

The floodgates are open
We've let the demons loose
The big guns have spoken
And we've fallen for the ruse

Disorder in the house
It's a fate worse than fame
Even the Lhasa Apso seems to be ashamed

Disorder in the house
The doors are coming off the hinges
The earth will open and swallow up the real estate

I just got my paycheck
I'm gonna paint the whole town grey
Whether it's a night in Paris or a Fresno matinee

It's the home of the brave and the land of the free
Where the less you know the better off you'll be

Disorder in the house
All bets are off
I'm sprawled across the davenport of despair

Disorder in the house
I'll live with the losses
And watch the sundown through the portiere."

Wonderfully creepy, yes? And it seems to match the situation. 

That, or perhaps even better and simpler, Allen Ginsberg's comment in his Independence Day Manifesto, "No one is in real control. America is having a nervous breakdown." He wrote that in 2000, echoing his feelings from years before, and prophetically the truth for these years as well.

And in this nervous breakdown we are off to hold an election of a President, a full House of Representatives and a third of the Senate, not to mention all sorts of Governors, Mayors, and other honorable folk, and they, like most of us, have been rendered speechless by virtue of the fear that breakdown brings. Paranoid and simplistic voices that call the President socialist, so laughable that we should cry. So fearful are the voices that the President in turn dares not be an actual socialist and dares not laugh in their faces because he too knows just how much the sellout has taken hold even in his own mind. 

We are thundering down a road to a land where those who seek prophetic solace will once again read Isaiah and Jeremiah and Marx in one breath, find Jesus again and conclude with Che that "the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love". 

But for now everyone will worship the middle class, no one will mention the poor very much, and we will avert our eyes from the reality that America has become the great refuge for shameless greed.  For now, "Even the Lhasa Apso seems to be ashamed."

I am sick at heart for this place of great promise unrealized.

And with that as the backdrop, what about The Episcopal Church?

Preludium exists as a blog precisely because it was this writer's sense some fifteen years ago that The Episcopal Church and its part and life within the Anglican Communion was undergoing massive change and that the challenge of that change would lead to a new way of thinking of the Communion and a new way of thinking about being "church." So I wrote, "The Challenge of Change: The Anglican Communion in the post modern era." Following that, and with the encouragement of Louie Crew and others, I began to write for his blog pages and for The Witness, and in 2005 I began writing Preludium. 

I mostly got it right, but not without a major failing. While I wrote about the terrible events of 9/11/ 2001, about the mad and sad wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, about the fears and new political ultra nationalism, and about the end of any pretense to end poverty in this country, I did not dwell much on the way in which the last 10-12 years of life in America has influenced just what The Episcopal Church is about and why we too have shared in the nervous breakdown that is America.

We are about to hold General Convention 2012, the every three year meeting of Episcopal Church deputies and bishops from all over the church in what is meant to be the "assembly" of the whole church. With all our efforts to insist that a church wide assembly in the Episcopal Church is larger than an assembly of US based dioceses, its agenda will be almost entirely determined by US based interests and concerns.  The nervous breakdown that is America will have its mirror in General Convention.

There is no question in my mind that fearless and good people will gather and we will explore with honesty and clarity differences among us, will work out ways to find a mind of the church as much as possible.  As we always do we will find a way to express in prayer and blessing various aspects of our common life. 

But on two matters in particular we will fall short of our best possibilities:  The Anglican Covenant debate and its conclusion will be unsatisfactory and the matter of restructure of the church's ecclesial life will remain mostly unattended.

That is because we lack a sense of purpose in the larger realm of civil and religious concerns.

We lack any "manifesto" that speaks to the nervous breakdown that is America and that permeates all of America's institutions including the churches, and in particular The Episcopal Church. We live in the same culture of fear that IS America in these days and it is no wonder that friends and foes alike the world over are wondering just who we are.

The Anglican Covenant is no manifesto and the Restructuring proposals are no call to real and specific vision nailed down and made real. That is their problem.

How can we vote Yes on a Covenant that does not, cannot and is not even meant to address, the culture of fear that permeates all of life here, and I would submit, most everywhere in the greed thick parts of the world?  How can we make any kind of restructure that addresses new life after death when we are still afraid of death?

Che Guevara was wrong as could be on some things, but it wouldn't be bad to think that if God is love and those who abide in love abide in God, that real revolutionary thinking would itself be guided by great feelings of love. 

Allen Ginsberg set his queer shoulder to the wheel and so must we all, but he also set out to make America a place where poets and vision were part of what made the wheels turn. 

And he said about all our squirming around and avoidance, "Only those who have entered the world of Spirit know what a vast laugh there is in the illusory appearance of worldly authority. And all ... at one time or other enter that Spirit, whether in life or death. 

I believe it is time for The Episcopal Church to find voice for a Manifesto, one line of which, I would like to submit is this, "We must be a community of poetic sensibility."

I have written before on a notion of a manifesto for the Episcopal Church. Perhaps it is time to write again.

Then again, I can always visit with the young, the very young, who have not yet learned to be afraid. From them I might learn how to write plainly and without fear.



  1. Mark --you do write plainly --and I sense no fear in your words.

    As to a church poetic... is this a call to mysticism?

    Just wondering....

  2. Mark, what I like about your posts is the candour. Reality is always a good therapy - enabling us to emerge from the chrysalis that we tend to inhabit in defence of our own version of The Faith. In fact this enterprise is God's work, and we either cooperate or we do not. It often seems that the way ahead is murky - needing some definition, and yet, God is at work in it all.

    Like you, I see this in our grandchildren, small, mischievous and incredibly hopeful. In their future is our hope (or is that the other way round?)

    The words of Jesus "Suffer the little children to come unto me", reminds me that we need to get back to our first innocence - Let go, and let God, might be the way forward for all of us.

    Blessings on the TEC General Convention. Our Covenant is with Christ - there is none other.

  3. Mary Clara9/5/12 12:43 AM

    Mark, thank you for this. It is so relieving to have someone name the condition we are in: "nervous breakdown" describes it very well. And I agree that poetic imagination is the golden thread that could lead us out of this accursed place. Have been wanting to respond to your important post of March 9 ("Look to the Tyger and Anglicanism Again") which pointed in this direction as well. William Countryman's book 'The Poetic Imagination: An Anglican Spiritual Tradition' is here beside me. I will try to write to you on this topic as soon as time permits. Meanwhile thank God for Blake, for Ginsberg and for so many other poets who point us toward the world of Spirit which is not remote but here with us and in us and among us.

  4. Margaret...not mysticism directly, but rather a church in which belief, doctrine, faith statements, are made in language and ideas that suggest and prod and tease and provoke larger possibilities than words can specifically signify. For example the careful formulation that says that the "Holy Scriptures..contain all things necessary for salvation" is open to "poetic sensibility," in that the heart and mind have a great range of ways in which to apply that statement. And it is poetic sensibility or imagination that opens us to just how Holy Scripture accomplishes that task, and how we might come to salvation in other ways.

    But more generally I view poetic sensibility to be the basis for doing something other than logic chopping with such wonderful phrases as "Oh you winds and snows, glorify the Lord, praise him and magnify him forever." Some belief and theology and worship are meant to be sung, and to hell with the precise meanings. Thereby we put away the need to ask just how snow and wind glorify, etc. and settle into profound grounding in the joyful truth of it all.

    It would be good to be a church of poetic sensibility and not too literal, etc.

  5. Was the sustained and life-or-death debate over one word (homoousia) a matter of poetry? It affected every aspect of how we think about and give ourselves over to Jesus Christ. It is fashionable in the chic US of today (and a good deal of fun) to speak of doctrine and literalism as bad things. Other generations in other places saw them as life giving, liberating, and necessary.

    Poetry at its best is the complement or embroidery on an essential literalism.

    See J. Donne on 'Thou art a literal God' (Expostulations).


  6. Amen to that.

    --oh, and thank you for your service to the greater church. Thank. You. I, for one, have been grateful to know that you have been serving in the 'higher' councils. I shall miss your presence there.

  7. Msgr...No the debate over homoousia was not a matter of poetry, but we don't worship with such limits, even though we define with them.

    Doctrine is not a bad thing at all, but doctrine about the Lord Jesus Christ is not the same as living in him. Doctrine, even about essential matters, is grounding, but I would submit not nearly as grounding as the experience of the real presence in sacrament and in experience.
    Still, we are grounded by what we are grounded by and perhaps we simply live in different spiritual towns.

    Being literal - that is meaning exactly what is said, on this or that occasion - is a fine art and worth the effort. Literalism, which is applying the notion of literal meaning to a whole body of material, is just plain crazy.

    Poetry, and poetic sensibility, is not a complement to essential literalism, it is a complement to linguistic constructions that are meant to be understood literally. So, I suppose, "LIKE as the hart desireth the water-brooks : so longeth my soul after thee, O God" could be stated in some literal way without the comparison the the hart. Bu why would we want too? In this little snippet I can image myself "like as the hart" coming out of the woods, hesitant, watchful, but so thirsty that I am willing to be exposed, almost trembling with desire for the water. This is not embroidery on an essential literalims. This is what it is - a longing for God that is almost pre-human - and yet known by me at odd moments in my life when I hear the words and am one with the writer of the Psalm, the deer, the longings in all beings, etc.

    I suspect you and I are both attracted to statements that can be taken literally when we need to, but convinced by more poetic statements when we allow ourselves to be so directed.

    But then, perhaps this is just me.

  8. Thanks. I prefer Donne's excellent handling of this relationship.

    And. Doctrine is preciously about living in him. There is a LEX credendi that issues into a LEX orandi.

    What a funny age we live in. Schleiermacher won, as our famous Rabbi (Harold Bloom of Yale) told us in his expose of American Gnosticism.


  9. America has become a nation of savages, and TEC is one of the very few civilizing influences left.

  10. You call it a "nervous breakdown." I call it "mission creep". Until I start to hear some proposals for restructuring that model equality and parity between the two houses, I will be suspicious of its motives.

    And, I won't stop talking or writing about it.

  11. Dougas Lewis15/5/12 10:48 AM

    Hmm. Calling specific people fools, &c. gets you bounced, but calling an entire nation 'savages' is OK. (BTW, I ssume that Mr Brunson isn't a member of TEC, or hasn't been for very long. it obviously hasn't had time to work its 'civilizing influence' on him.)
    Douglas Lewis

  12. You claim to love the poor but you work for a church that's over 95% White and middle/upper middle class. You live in a quiet suburb.
    You either don't really like poor people or you somehow think that preaching about the non-white and poor will help them.
    Your church is under 2 million and shrinking. Its membership's median age is 56 and rising. Average Sunday attendance is shrinking quickly.

  13. I think you chose the wrong lyric.

    Well, he went down to dinner in his Sunday best
    Excitable boy, they all said
    And he rubbed the pot roast all over his chest
    Excitable boy, they all said
    Well, he's just an excitable boy

    He took in the four a.m. show at the Clark
    Excitable boy, they all said
    And he bit the usherette's leg in the dark
    Excitable boy, they all said
    Well, he's just an excitable boy

    He took little Susie to the Junior Prom
    Excitable boy, they all said
    and he raped her and killed her, then he took her home
    Excitable boy, they all said
    Well, he's just an excitable boy
    After ten long years they let him out of the Home
    Excitable boy, they all said
    And he dug up her grave and built a cage with her bones
    Excitable boy, they all said
    Well, he's just an excitable boy

  14. If you don't wish to be called a savage, Lewis, don't act like one! My countrymen have become a disgrace to the world at large, trampling the poor, glorifying capital, grasping a bestial vision of Randian law-of-the-jungle.

    One has to be civilized to recognize a savage. Savage people with no regard for their fellow humans don't recognize their lack of civilization.

    One other point of correction, calling an individual a savage by clumsy inference is apparently fine.

  15. The phantom root veggie sounds a lot like Brad the Troll! He posts the same things over and over, like a stuck phonograph record.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, 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.