The Rectification of Names: Process and Resolutions

This week at General Convention, in the few moments there are for quiet and meditation I have been reading The Art of Writing, by the Chinese scholar writer poet Lu Chi, translated by Sam Hamill. The reason for this is related not to writing, but to printmaking. Still, Lu Chi's words have stood me in good stead over the years and echo in bits and pieces of - of all things - resolutions that got into the mix at General Convention and elsewhere.

In part three of The Art of Writing, Lu Chi writes this:

Calm the heart's dark waters;
collect from deep thoughts
the proper names for things.

Much of our task in the dark waters of legislative work is precisely to collect from deep thoughts the proper names for things.  It is never a perfectly done task and the making of legislative sausage is not a pretty thing to watch, but even in all the amending the amendment to the amendment language of a legislature in session there are deep thoughts and the effort to find the proper names for things.

Last fall the Executive Council's D020 Committee, on which I sat, produced a report and with it a suggested resolution to go to General Convention. That was A126. The last resolve of that resolution stated, "Resolved, that The Episcopal Church is unable to adopt the Anglican Covenant in its present form." I carefully proposed the word "unable" believing that it, rather than "cannot" or "refuses" or "declines" was more appropriate.  It was, I believed, a matter of finding the proper name for the "thing" that stood in the way of our signing. That "thing" was a concern for the canonical and legal ramifications of signing and the word "unable" signified that no matter if we wanted to, we could not sign on. We later in General Convention took a different path. 

Interestingly, the Church in New Zealand, which first proposed that they "declined" to adopt the Covenant changed the language to "unable." Following the language, and perhaps the reasoning of the Executive Council language.  I suspect "unable" was right in New Zealand for reasons related to but not the same as the Executive Council reasons. We are after all peoples who use English in very different ways.

In B005, substitute, which we passed yesterday, I proposed the language finally adopted, "that as a pastoral response to The Episcopal Church, the General Convention decline to take a position on the Anglican Covenant at this convention."  I did so believing that the variety of positions on the Covenant were both mutually incompatible and without a majority going to any one of them. Proposing them would simply produce frustration, anger, muddle and a further sense of speaking past one another and not to one another. 

Some have suggested that I was wrong, that if given the chance a majority of the House of Deputies would have gone for a resolution to reject or decline or even ignore.  When tested, however, an amendment to that effect failed. 

Still the notion that what we needed to point to, to name rightly, was the pastoral issue, was an interesting one. The notion that General Convention might act in a way that did not add more clamor and noise to an already challenged congress is unique, I believe. 

Invoking pastoral response has of course been used before - particularly in the effort to allow the limited use of blessing liturgies in relation to the celebration of same sex lifelong unions.  Pastoral response language has been about clergy and their pastoral response to those who come to them, but in this case it is General Convention acting in a pastoral way to The Episcopal Church that is signaled.

Whether or not this is a case where we

Calm the heart's dark waters;
collect from deep thoughts
the proper names for things.

is not yet known, but the effort is there. 

We speak of "perfecting" the language of resolutions.  Lu Chi writes of the frustrations of the task:

"Sometimes the words come freely;
sometimes we sit in silence,
gnawing on a brush."

And yet, even in moments when words to not come, even then it is a task worth the doing.

Time to go back into session.


  1. Mark,
    I missed your speaking on this topic when I finally "checked in" to the live debate via the web, BUT, there was a tweet from someone there who said you had converted his thinking...Good work!

    Mary Allen, Bethany Beach

  2. I understand. I really do. Nevertheless, I am, in a word, disappointed. This resolution may have been carefully worded so that it would pass the political and legislative process, but it falls short of full integrity. When did "pastoral" become synonymous for "weak" and give license for borderline duplicity? Do we really think the rest of the communion can't see through this?

    My grandmother always said that if something was worth doing, it was worth doing well. I think my grandmother would be disappointed. As I said, I am.

    I keep hearing a line from the Sondheim play, "Into the Woods"...."...and I was so careful, I forgot how to care....."


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