"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Archive for September 2014

What cost good will?

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I was pondering today if it is possible for an employer to buy good will from employees?

This is such a critical commodity – something that I focused most of my leadership effort on in past roles, because I knew that good will in my organization could move mountains. A lack of good will, that “I’ll just show up and do the least amount I can.” attitude, by contrast, can bring an operation to its knees quite quickly.

The simple truth is that good will can be the easiest thing to gain, and the fastest thing to lose. I recall a quote that was mounted on the wall at military college – something about respect having to be earned anew each morning, but it could be lost forever in a single moment. My experience in large, complex organizations performing highly technical work was that people would bring you the moon and more, if they thought you were interested in them and willing to involve them in the process. Sometimes just asking someone’s opinion would make the difference between a revolt or a grudging acceptance of something difficult.

What continues to amaze me is how many organizations (my present one in particular) seem to go out of their way to do the exact opposite. That is, burn good will quickly, as they obviously have no idea of its worth (or even that it exists). Compounded by a lack of honour and courage, it rapidly poisons the workplace and brings everyone down to the lowest level – I’m going to do the minimum, ignore everything (and everyone) and go home at 1620 each day. The lack of courage means that things like difficult policy decisions are sent out by emails, as supervisors have no ability to influence people through leadership.

I realized early in my career as a leader (that is, almost 30 years ago) that the most valuable capital I had with my soldiers was good will. Soldiers would do something if ordered to do it, but would do almost anything happily if there was good will in place. Good will is a personal line of credit each person in the organization extends to a leader that the leader can draw on in times of stress.

Realizing that good will is such a precious commodity marks me even more perplexed when it is casually tossed aside.


Written by sameo416

September 25, 2014 at 5:51 pm

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“The Blue Cascade”, a reflection on the impact of war

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I just finished reading a fascinating book (The Blue Cascade: A Memoir of Life After War, Mike Scotti, Grand Central Publishing, 2012 in the EPL). Scotti served as a US Marine through a tour in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, working as an artillery liaison officer (what I think we would call a FOO in Canada). It’s a moving and powerful book documenting Scotti’s recovery from what sounded like severe PTSD. He also produced a movie, Severe Clear (available on Netflix) that is a compilation of his personal video of the battle space.

Starting with the movie…there are very few books or films I’ve encountered that really give a perspective into the actual fog of war. Band of Brothers and the Pacific come close, but are still somewhat contrived. In Scotti’s film there are a couple of sequences where he wedged the camera into a space in the command vehicle and let the tape roll in the middle of combat sequences. After reading the book, I better understand how tense some of those situations really were, with numerous danger close fire missions and Scotti’s vehicle coming under direct fire a number of times. Those video sequences are the best window into the reality of close combat.

I’ve not had a chance to re-watch the movie after reading the book to see if there is video of a friendly fire incident. Scotti hears a call on the radio net about a US unit under fire from their artillery (what we would politely call a ‘blue on blue’ incident). Scotti believes for a short time that he was the one who had made an error and called in the fire mission on US troops. He immediately called a cease-fire on the radio net, and discovered that it was a different liaison officer calling in artillery in Scotti’s area of operations. If that’s in the video it would be very interesting to review.

The book nicely compliments the narrative of the film and fills in some of the gaps, and in particular the personal impact certain events had on Scotti.

A couple of direct quotations.

Scotti receives a decoration for his performance in battle. He writes about what a decoration really means to him as a soldier – something I’ve written and spoken about previously.

To my mind, all the citation really said was that a Marine had fought the way he was supposed to fight in combat, regardless of the circumstances. It said that a Marine had done his job. It didn’t say anything about governments, politics, oil, the United Nations, the CIA, or intelligence that pointed to weapons of mass destruction. (p. 56)

That frames my understanding of a soldier’s view of valour awards. While the greater culture sees these as the marks of a hero (a word a soldier is highly suspicious of), the soldier sees this as a confirmation that he has done his duty. This is why I think the highest compliment one can pay to a soldier is to say, “she did her duty”.

On the following page (57) this comment about careerism in the USMC:

It felt good to know that I would be getting out soon. I would never have to kiss a higher-ranking officer’s ass to further my own career. Or be stuck in a situation where someone above me had made a decision that looked good politically, but that also screwed over everybody in the unit below the rank of captain. I saw this happen sometimes in other units — when majors and colonels are scrambling for the ever smaller number of spots at the top of the pyramid. All I cared about was that the Marines under my command were well trained and that I’d provided them with every tool possible to help them stay alive in combat. Nothing else mattered.

This rings so true from my own service. I can recall when I took over as the chief engineer on a fighter squadron, making a similar promise to the 170 or so people in my care. That we would be the best combat-focused maintenance unit in the Air Force, and that I would never sacrifice any of them to forward my career. That many of those soldiers did not believe me at first was a sad statement about the number of careerist people who had preceded me.

On the impact of quiet time for a veteran (p. 102):

But what I didn’t realize [on quitting his job as a trader] was that without something like a steady job to absorb the energy, I would be left alone much of the time. Alone time for a veteran who is struggling becomes dwell time. Dwelling on the past. Dwelling on the reasons or the situations or the circumstances. And the dwelling begins to slowly solidify. Transforming itself. Feeding and sucking on your energy. Changing your brain chemistry. Your beliefs. Your perspective. Turning the world the same ashen color as the eyes of the dead children along the road.

On how he began to perceive himself while trying to re-integrate with a new career (113-114) and actively considering suicide:

“Check firing! Check firing! Check firing!” And the voices seemed to bleed over from the spirit world to the world next to that cold brick wall and the neighbor that lived above who’d snorted too much blow and decided to rearrange his furniture. And the confusion and doubt of whether it had actually happened or had been another bad dream and I had actually reversed the numbers on the map by mistake [speaking of the friendly fire incident]. And that doubt and the wondering and the adrenaline in the pale hollow arctic desert that was becoming my life. Where sleep had been the only thing that I had left — but now they’d taken even that…

Mostly sober now but head pounding and throbbing and I was the ashes that were left at the end. The last few warm sips of beer at the bottom of the bottle. The best part of me — the prime — had already passed. The clarity gone. And the meaning and the days fat with sunshine. Things were on the downward slope but I couldn’t remember the exact moment when they had shifted quietly from the up to the down.

A reflection on leadership between business and the military (and I live this reality every day in my present life, pp. 276-278):

When things like that happen [mass layoffs], the difference between the resilience in morale of people who are fighting for a cause and those who are working for a large paycheck becomes apparent. Those who are united for a cause — for a mission — become stronger and more powerful. They dig deep inside themselves, and they persevere.

But those whose motivations are less heroic become frozen with fear. Unit effectiveness drops. Productivity drops. And the wrath continues and feeds on the fear, whether it’s a war being fought by mercenaries who don’t believe in it or traders and salespeople who say things like “I’d sell by kids for a twenty-percent return” and are only half joking. …

“You know what’s missing from Wall Street, brother?” I said to Kevin one day. “Trust. Leadership. Unselfishness. On the Street, fear, jealousy, greed and suspicion are the only things that matter. … People here have this ‘I’m watching my own ass’ mind-set. … With a system like that, how the hell are you supposed to rely on each other and create a real team? …

Then my thoughts drifted off to the Marine Corps leadership training we’d received as enlisted recruits and officer candidates — when our young minds had learned the importance of values like honor, courage, and commitment. I never realized how valuable those things were — and how important they were to me personally — until I started spending my life in a place that was completely lacking in all of them.

Here, even basic leadership skills were absent. Simple things like setting an example. Developing a sense of responsibility among your subordinates. Knowing your people and looking out for their welfare. These are the things that build great organizations, that make people want to work harder for the cause and not think twice about it.

That about sums it up — my post-uniform experience of much I’ve experienced. Leadership, in the truest sense of the word, is an exception, and a rare exception. I can’t actually remember the last time I was inspired by a leader…

The things that should be so apparent, like making decisions that have huge impact on your subordinates without even consulting them beforehand. Or even worse, consulting them beforehand on something key (like the design of an office), settling on that design and then radically changing it without telling anyone.

The Blue Cascade – highly recommended for anyone who wants some insight into the mind of a veteran of combat, and the differences between leadership in uniform and out.

Written by sameo416

September 24, 2014 at 10:50 am

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Discernment, Part II

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Discernment (notes for a confirmation class on truth and history)

First: does the event meet with the approval of Scripture? God’s inward consistency means that nothing that contradicts what is written in Holy Scripture can be of God.

Second: does the event meet with the approval of long-standing church teaching? If Augustine or Aquinas or Tertullian or any patristic writer wrote on it and it was accepted as part of the church’s teaching then there is more certainty it is of God.

Third: what is its impact on the individual or community of believers? If its impact on you or on a group is to build up faith then it is probably of God. If the impact is division, anger and distrust these are not things that usually forward the kingdom.

Fourth: what is the result of prayerful discernment on the topic? Does prayer and meditation around the event result in a sense of peace and assuredness as to God’s grace being involved, or does the prayer lead to a growing sense of unease? God’s presence is usually marked by peace.

Five: what is the discernment of a trusted prayer partner or a person you know to be closely walking the path of Christ? Check it out with one, two or even three of your brothers and sisters. The Spirit speaks to us through community, and when one of us is hearing-impaired because of our own bondages, others may be granted clear sight.

Matthew 22 15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap Him in what He said. 16 And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any. 17 “Tell us then, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?”

John 1 14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1 16 For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. 17 For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.

John 3 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

19 “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20 “For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21″But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”

John 4 22 “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.
24 “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

John 8 30 As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him. 31 So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

39 They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father ” Jesus said to them, “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. 40 “But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do.

John 8 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me. 43 “Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. 44 “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 “But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me. 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.”

John 14 5 Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

John 14 16 “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; 17 that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.

John 16 12 “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.

John 17 1 Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, 2 even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life.
15″I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. 16″They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17″Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.
18″As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 “For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.

John 18 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” 37 Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” 38 Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews and said to them, “I find no guilt in Him.

Romans 1 24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

1 Corinthians 5 7 Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Ephesians 4 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. 25 Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another.

Ephesians 6 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.

2 Timothy 2 24 The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.

2 Timothy 4 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.

James 1 18 In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.

1 John 2 3 By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5 but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected.

1 John 3 17 But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. 19 We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him

1 John 4 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

Matthew 10 15 Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. 16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues.

Written by sameo416

September 21, 2014 at 1:37 pm

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Submission to the Anglican Commission on the Marriage Canon

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We Canadian Anglicans are in the midst of another commission on marriage, this one considering how to word a motion to amend the marriage canon in 2016 to include permission for same-sex marriage. An invitation was issued to everyone to provide comments – my submission is as below.

Submission to the Commission on the Marriage Canon 1 September 2014

A Question of Canon or Doctrine?

The first comment relates to the approach chosen for this attempt to bring same-sex marriage into being in the Anglican Church of Canada. As the “Submissions solicited from specialists” attests, the question has been struck as one of canon law. I submit that this is a fundamental error, as the primary question to be answered is one of doctrine. Canon law is not doctrine, does not drive doctrine, but rather reflects the legal framework required to maintain what the church considers to be proper teaching.

This deference to the law is a departure from the Christian community’s usual mode of discernment and decision-making.  Likewise, subordinating doctrinal matters to majority vote leaves behind our community’s traditional approach to deal with critical questions of belief.  The Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), involving a doctrinal change, was done by full consent of the apostles and elders and ultimately the whole church, not by majority vote.

This is by no means a trite question, and the reason is simple. By addressing the question as one of law, the field is now opened for individual opinion and particularly the opinion of legal specialists. Doctrine, by contrast, has no such latitude. I am not so naïve as to miss the point of striking the question in this manner, which is to open up far greater possibility for change than if the question is left in its correct form as one of doctrine.

The specialist submission on the Solemn Declaration is an example of why I am concerned about this mis-direction. My day job requires that I interpret legislation and case law and apply that interpretation to the facts of cases. On any given legal question, there is a potentially wide scope of possible answers, any of which might fall within the category the courts refer to as ‘reasonable’. Some of those answers are contradictory. This is a far different outcome than a more rigorous test that could find an opinion as either correct or incorrect. Legal opinions are exactly that – opinions, which can be supported or discarded depending on your interpretation of the law. Legal opinions are regularly weighed, sometimes accepted, sometimes rejected.  In some cases, the legal opinions I’ve assessed offered diametrically opposing perspectives on the facts.

That aspect of the law places it on a fundamentally different footing than doctrine. Doctrine is either correct, or it is not correct. There is no similar approach that accepts that a reasonable range of doctrines can co-exist, and particularly not if the doctrines are contradictory.  (I’m willfully ignoring the post-modern idea that contradictory ideas can exist simultaneously)

So, while the specialist submission finds that the Solemn Declaration has no prescriptive law embodied (a conclusion that I would support) this misses the point. The Solemn Declaration is not canon law. It is instead a statement that outlines what the early bishops felt was a moral and doctrinal imperative placed upon the church. In the modern era we place little stock in such things, but that does not alter the reality that there continues to be a moral binding that the Solemn Declaration brings forward to us. If we are to discount the moral authority of the Solemn Declaration, we should do so honestly and directly, and not by canonical sleight-of-hand that declares the Declaration to be ‘non-prescriptive’ at law.

As a final comment on this matter, while I’ve noted my agreement that the Solemn Declaration does not contain prescriptive legal language, the Canons of General Synod change that status by reference, bringing the Solemn Declaration into canonical standing. From the 2013 edition of the Handbook of General Synod:

6. Jurisdiction of the General Synod
Subject to the provisions of section 7 the General Synod shall have authority and jurisdiction in all matters affecting in any way the general interest and well-being of the whole Church and in particular: […]
i) the definition of the doctrines of the Church in harmony with the Solemn Declaration adopted by this synod;

Jurisdiction is an entirely legal term, and I would suggest that the act of bringing the Solemn Declaration into an explicit statement on the jurisdiction of General Synod elevates the Declaration to canonical status. The specialist submission suggests that the wording of the clause is ambiguous, but I would disagree as a matter of legal interpretation. The statement explicitly limits the jurisdiction of General Synod to only enacting changes to doctrines of the Church when they are in harmony with the Solemn Declaration.  “Harmony” is certainly open to reasonable interpretation.

Finally, it is telling that the one ‘specialist’ report on the commission’s web page is from a specialist in canon law. Are there to be no ‘specialist’ theologians or ‘specialist’ bible scholars also providing reports?

Blessing of Same-Sex Unions, or Same-Sex Marriage?

This distinction is a historic one. As was set out clearly in the St Michael Report:

39. It is the view of the Commission that any proposed blessing of a same-sex relationship would be analogous to a marriage to such a degree as to require the church to understand it coherently in relation to the doctrine of marriage. The Commission noted that the change in civil law in Canada to permit the civil marriage of same-sex couples requires a clarification of the validity and sustainability of the distinction between blessings and marriages in the Canadian context.

The Primate’s Theological Commission (PTC) considered that ‘same-sex blessing’ was so close to marriage that it would need to be understood within the doctrine of marriage. The report also underlined that the use of the term ‘same-sex blessing’ was historic from the period before the state permitted same-sex civil unions. The church opted for the language of ‘blessing’ because the civil law of the time prohibited same-sex marriage. Since the civil law has been changed, the language of ‘blessing’ of same-sex unions is no longer correct. In fact, the discussion has morphed directly into a discussion about marriage, with some suggesting that has been the point all along.

From a sacramental point of view, that conclusion is reinforced. An examination of the marriage ritual allows one to identify two distinct actions. One is the state-authorized taking of a solemn oath before a commissioner of marriage which results in the legal state of marriage. The other is the sacramental activity when the church imparts God’s blessing on the couple. Without the blessing, there is no sacramental action by the church (and indeed, no need for an ordained person to conduct the service). Therefore, from a sacramental perspective, the use of the ‘same-sex blessing’ terminology has always been problematic. A blessing is the church’s sacramental sealing of a marriage, and without the blessing there is no sacrament of marriage.

Unfortunately, the Church has continued to display quite muddled thinking on this topic. At the Synod of the Diocese of Edmonton in 2012, a motion was passed authorizing the blessing of same-sex partners. When the motion was presented, the mover clearly stated that this was not intended to permit same-sex marriage, but was about only a blessing. The mover said this was about the church saying to the same-sex couple, as quoted in an Edmonton Journal article after the Synod (my link is broken as the Journal doesn’t archive these articles):

It is not a move toward allowing Anglican priests to marry same-sex couples, Gordon cautioned.“ All it is, is an affirmation, saying to people, ‘The church wishes you well,’” Gordon said. “It is no more complicated than that.”

What I heard clearly from a number of people that supported the motion was that they would not be supporting it if it was a question of marriage. Blessing was something they felt comfortable with. I am concerned about the move to now amend the marriage canon, when it is clear even the clergy in our church do not clearly understand the difference. I will suggest from this example, that there is clearly a need for more education prior to any substantive vote at General Synod.

That perspective was echoed by Bishop Larry Robertson at the last synod:

Diocese of Yukon Bishop Larry Robertson said he was “disappointed” on a number of counts. “I’ve been told by at least one primate and many bishops that we’re not discussing marriage, so we have done no real research on it,” he said. “It’s a complete leap. From my first meeting of the House of Bishops in 1999, I was told same-sex blessings is not marriage—it’s a pastoral thing, and marriage is a doctrinal thing…I feel that for the last 20 years, we’ve been talking about the wrong issue.” (Anglican Journal, July, 08 2013)

Again, if our clergy and our bishops are asking these sorts of questions, it is clear that this is the time for further study in community, and not for substantive decisions.

Impact on Aboriginal Anglicans

I write this as a member of the Metis Nation of Alberta, and a person of aboriginal status in Canada. As has been clearly stated by my aboriginal brothers and sisters in Christ, particularly in the Diocese of the Arctic, the question of marriage in our communities is one that is highly traditional. That is, while southern communities may take a much more liberal view of the developments of white society, that sort of liberal perspective is not reflected in northern communities.

We have just completed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission national event here in Edmonton. Part of that process was the church’s public admission of our past sin, and our need to repent and seek a new way forward where we can walk in community with aboriginal Christians. If the national church proceeds to change the marriage canon to permit same-sex marriage, this will serve to drive a wedge in a place where the early stages of healing are beginning.

This is such a significant point, as it directly engages traditional teachings that exist in aboriginal cultures. The church is beginning to acknowledge that aboriginal cultures have a rich tradition independent of that which the settlers brought to Canada. This tradition has survived the repeated attempts of settler culture to destroy it. Does the Anglican Church now wish to begin that path of adversarial relations with aboriginals anew? For the church to consider moving in a direction that is contrary to the teaching of the elders, has the potential to alienate many northern congregations:

Bishop Lydia Mamakwa of the Northern Ontario mission area also commented that there is no First Nations representation on the committee. “Keep this in mind that the church and the Bible teaches that marriage is between one man and one woman…Our elders are very strong in that belief and they would like to see that continue, so please keep this in mind for our First Nations people, as they are part of the Anglican Church of Canada.” (Anglican Journal, May 4, 2014)

The Anglican Church was personally involved in the horrific damage that was caused to many aboriginal communities through the residential school system.  That damage continues to harm communities, and it will take generations of focused work by both sides to resolve the issues we, as a church community, are partly responsible for.  The comments from Bishop Mamakwa, stated in a traditionally understated way, are a powerful caution that should be enough to unseat this canonical process.

The call to Christian community means we do not act in a way that we know will cause harm to our brothers and sisters, but rather withdraw from such changes.  To now turn away, and to consider making such a change canonically (which is equally contrary to the aboriginal way of community and decision-making) is to effectively turn our backs on aboriginal Anglicans.  We will live precisely into the lowered expectations that all Canadian aboriginal communities have of the Christian church.

The Matter of the Primate’s Theological Commission

While the Primate’s Theological Commission (PTC) used the language of ‘blessing of same-sex unions’, their earlier work (referenced above) clearly stated that this was actually a discussion about marriage. As was stated clearly by Bishop Moxley at the last General Synod:

Bishop Sue Moxley, diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, expressed support for the motion. “There’s an interesting dynamic: that people can get their head around blessing a couple but not get their head around marriage,” she said. “For me, that doesn’t make sense because for me a blessing is what a wedding in a church is about.” (Anglican Journal, July, 08 2013)

The earlier two reports by the PTC cannot be dispensed with by concluding they did not engage the topic of marriage. Even a surface read of the 2004 and 2009 reports clearly indicates that the commission was talking about marriage.

The questions set out by the Commission on the Marriage Canon for people to ponder have already been fully addressed in a theological context by the Primate’s Theological Commission (PTC). That commission was comprised of representatives that truly reflected the breadth of theological perspectives in the Anglican Church of Canada. In the first report of 2004, The St. Michael Report, the commission concluded that marriage was a matter of doctrine. The result of the second report in 2009, The Galilee Report, was in response to questions asked of the commission by General Synod.

From the national church website:

This report responds to two questions posed at General Synod 2007: “the theological question of whether the blessing of same-sex unions is a faithful, Spirit-led development of Christian doctrine” and “Scripture’s witness to the integrity of every human person and the question of the sanctity of human relationships.”

I respect the work of that commission as the first and only group that had broad-based representation and spent many hours over several years seriously engaging these difficult questions. Any activity the church now takes concerning the marriage canon must be done in a way that is coherent with, and respecting the conclusions presented by the PTC. That the questions the present commission has proposed cover almost the same ground as the PTC analysis, leaves me concerned that this fresh look will dispense with those two reports.

The conclusion of The Galilee Report is significant. In that report the PTC attempted to address two pointed questions asked by General Synod. If the blessing of same-sex unions was a development of doctrine, and of Scripture’s witness to the integrity of every person. After two years of deliberation by a group of well-lettered clergy and laity, the PTC was forced to conclude that they were unable to achieve consensus on the question. From the report web page on the national church website:

The Commission offers the paper entitled “Integrity and Sanctity” as its consensus response to that part of the request. Members further prepared papers for discussion at the meetings of the Commission on a range of approaches as to whether the blessing of same-sex unions is a faithful, Spirit-led development of doctrine. The papers represent a variety of theological approaches present among its own membership and in the wider community of the church. Papers address scriptural concerns (Papers 3 and 4), development of doctrine (Papers 5 and 6), pro and con arguments for the blessing of same-sex unions (Papers 7 and 8); alternative approaches to considering human sexuality (Papers 9, 10, and 11), holiness and tradition (Papers 12 and 13), and past examples of changes in pastoral practice and doctrine (Papers 14, 15, and 16).

The process of discussion did not lead to a consensus within the Commission but rather led us to deeper recognition of the ongoing theological conversation that exists and is not complete.

This is a truly startling conclusion – that after two years a small group, working in community and led by prayer, were unable to achieve any degree of common understanding. I will suggest that this reflects a continued deep division within the church today, something that is not suitable to be ruled on by a democratic, canonical process external to the church’s usual treatment of doctrine. That is not an original thought, but stated in The Galilee Report:

4. The experience of the Primate’s Theological Commission has reflected, in many ways, that of the whole Church. We are not of one mind among ourselves. Deeply faithful and prayerful members, though following similar paths of enquiry, found themselves at very different conclusions. We also found ourselves in agreements that we could not have anticipated, coming to that place by different paths. We found hope together in being at the table in prayer, in Bible study, and in searching conversations of critical fundamental questions.

5. To date, we are not in a position to be able to present a single or consensus answer to the questions the church has placed before us. The papers that follow share the breadth of our discussions. We recognize that none of the questions we examined are simply a matter of finding the right information (in Scripture, in tradition, or in scientific knowledge), nor are they simply a matter of difference in how we do theology or approach the reading of Scripture or the use of scientific or other intellectual discoveries. We found it has been important to listen to and acknowledge the legitimacy and faithfulness of perspectives other than our own. For this reason the Commission recommends that all the papers be read, not just those most comfortable for the reader. This is not always easy nor without personal cost. We believe that the cost is part of what it means to participate in the hope of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as it is embodied in the doctrine, sacraments, and discipline of The Anglican Church of Canada, and to share in the commitment of the framers of the 1893 Declaration that we would “transmit the same unimpaired to our posterity.”

It is also significant that the PTC, in its lack of consensus on the question of same-sex marriage, looks back to the Solemn Declaration. That statement emphasizes the moral authority of the Declaration and the imperative to ensure that we do not lightly alter doctrine to suit our local circumstance. I would also state that the PTC was exceptionally representative of the full scope of thought on the question of same-sex marriage in our church – that they could not come to a resolution after two years tells me that the church has no business legislating on the question in 2016.

My great concern is that the theological struggles reflected in those two reports are now dispensed with as a new commission looks, not to doctrine or theology, but rather to canonical change. There are a wide variety of things that can be done which are said to be legal, but would not be considered in any way to be moral or, in our case, doctrinal. We are to be about different things than the society we live within, and to subvert the church’s work on doctrine to a purely legal/canonical matter is to abandon our obligation to safe guard the gift given to us through the great tradition represented by the Solemn Declaration.

Any work done by this present commission will have to somehow be shown to be consistent with that set out by the Primate’s Theological Commission in 2004 and 2009 if it hopes to be at all credible.

Answers to the Stated Questions

I’m not going to answer the stated questions, as the form of the questions themselves is a problem.

As has been observed by other commentators, the questions set out by the present commission presuppose some of the answers. If the commission’s perspective on Scripture and tradition is that it is a matter of individual interpretation, then the discussion is pretty much over. If it all comes down to the individual, the matter could be answered by majority vote. If, however, the question is not one of individual opinion but one of doctrine, what I may believe personally is nearly irrelevant. What matters is what the tradition tells us, and that cannot be undone by 50 or even 100 years of different thinking. As Richard Hooker stated clearly in his Lawes, tradition, tested and accepted through long practice, effectively becomes as law for the community.

I know this is a controversial statement in the modern western church, but matters of doctrine are not ones that should be decided by democratic process. This is something key that has been lost as our church has adopted the rule of law as the sole guide to all of its actions – so now we ask ‘is it legal’ as opposed to ‘is it consistent with our doctrine’. This fundamental shift is the reason why we can easily dispense with documents such as the Solemn Declaration, because we no longer respect those seminal writings as foundations of our faith and tradition.

The Scriptural references around this question have been tossed about endlessly. I will say that any canonical change adopted by the Anglican Church will need to somehow coherently engage Christ’s words in Matthew 19 – in response to a question about divorce, Jesus recites his understanding of marriage as set out in the Old Testament.

One of the ways out of the present theological morass we find ourselves in is to follow the practice of the Church of England, and to sever the connection between sacramental marriage and clergy acting as marriage commissioners as agents of the state. The only reason in favour of such an arrangement is one of convenience for those prepared to wed. In England, the state service is conducted at a government office. If a couple so desires, they can then proceed to ask the church for sacramental marriage. I would suggest that this severing is something long overdue in Canada.

A final word of caution. One of the things that General Synod asked this present commission to undertake was the following:

confirms immunity under civil law and the Human Rights Code for those bishops, dioceses and priests who refuse to participate in or authorize the marriage of same-sex couples on the basis of conscience;

I will respectfully submit that there is no way that the church could possibly make any assertion, canonical or doctrinal, which would fetter the courts or administrative tribunals from acting under the law of Canada and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. To even ask the question is nonsensical. Even putting a ‘conscience clause’ in whatever canonical change is eventually implemented will offer absolutely no protection to dissenting clergy. Simply stated, our canons and our doctrine are almost totally irrelevant when it comes to a question of Canadian law.

Even if we obtain a legal opinion from a well-lettered officer of the court that promises immunity under law, the only way such an opinion could be proven is through court trial. This is a further highlighting of my previous statements about legal opinion – there are a multitude of things that can be shown to be acceptable under the law, but the only place those opinions are upheld or destroyed is once a court has ruled on the question.

I fear for the dissenting clergy who chose to remain within the Anglican Church of Canada, once the church decides that it is time to amend the marriage canon. Right now we are protected by church law – we cannot perform that which is prohibited. If someone has an issue with that perspective, it is a matter against the church as a whole. Once the marriage canon is altered, that question now becomes one between the individual dissenting clergy and the person asking for marriage in the church.

Given that the church cannot promise its clergy immunity under civil law or under the Charter, the best the national church could do is guarantee to underwrite the legal expenses of those clergy who chose to dissent and are subjected to legal proceedings. I would suggest if the marriage canon is to be changed, it should include a provision to provide full funding for the defense in court or at tribunal of clergy who dissent by reason of conscience.


I have preached and written against the practice of leaving a ‘church’ because of a disagreement over matters of teaching. Simply stated, I’m not sure that we are ever called to leave the ‘church’ (meaning the Body of Christ) because where we happen to be does something that we find distasteful. The call to the Christian is to live in difficult community, with those who are different from us and challenge us, and that call has kept me in the Anglican Church of Canada even while many colleagues, friends and brothers and sisters in the faith have left to worship in other parts of the body.

That said, I have heard from a number of people that a change to the marriage canon would signal such a departure from the faith once given, it would leave them no choice but to find a different denomination.  This is not because of the marriage issue, but rather because the Anglican Church’s method of discussing that change is no longer framed in an overtly Christian context.  As our brothers and sisters in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada have experienced, this is a seminal issue with far-reaching consequences (see the Anglican Journal article of July 8, 2013 that stated, “35 congregations left in Alberta alone and their budget declined by 25 per cent.”).

In the latest Anglican Journal (September 2014) the ELCIC is now stating (in the words of the Primate) that they are in a “much less conflicted place”.  That is the inevitable outcome of a process that resulted in the dissenting voices leaving the community.  We need to walk this dangerous road with our eyes wide open live to the potential consequence of undoing what our forebears and elders in the faith have chosen to entrust to us.

Written by sameo416

September 6, 2014 at 1:14 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tests of Doctrinal Faithfulness

with one comment

How are we to know that something new, or something that claims to come from prophecy, is in fact of God?  How are we to carry out the command to ‘test the spirits’? (1 John 4:1)

The Anglican concept of authority is usually likened to a 3- or 4-legged stool, where the legs are: Scripture, reason, tradition (and a later addition from John Wesley, experience).  This is sometimes incorrectly represented as having legs of equal length, which is not the traditional understanding of the test.  Rather, Scripture holds the place of prominence…and in places where Scripture is silent, we can apply reason, tradition and experience as our tests.  Of course one is unable to understand Scripture without the application of reason, and a key to understanding Scripture is the test of tradition…so the legs of the stool also can be seen to work together.

My experience is that most times an incorrect teaching is upheld (incorrect teaching = heresy) is because one of the four elements of authority has been held above all the others.  So, you may be told that something is true because the person who has experienced it finds it ‘life affirming’ or something similar, and therefore it is an authority.  That is a holding of experience above the other three – mixed in with a bit of post-modernism that permits an individual to claim a truth which should be accepted as valid by the community (which is an entirely different discussion, but I mention it here as one of the modern manifestations of misplaced authority helped along by the post-modern irrationality).

Tradition is another swear word when it comes to post-modern thinking.  For the church, tradition is an anchor that helps us to weather the storms of life today.  There are many winds that seek to blow us off course.  Tradition, looking to those who have gone long before us, helps us to stay on track.  Richard Hooker, Anglican theologian, wrote that tradition, tested and accepted through long practice, effectively becomes law for the community.

Now, I’ll also acknowledge that historically people that are now considered saints or great mystics often seemed to operate right along the border of heresy and orthodoxy.  Sometimes the most profound truths are apparent only in teachings that push out the boundaries of the church’s understanding of something.  That’s not an endorsement of heretical teaching, just a caution that we need to be attentive to God’s leading (and also aware that to the early Jewish community, some of Christ’s teachings were considered blasphemous).  You never can tell where God will work, which is why the question of discernment and testing the spirits is so critical.

What I will say is that anything that is of God will (eventually) pass the test I’ve outlined below.  If the ‘whole new thing’ that you believe is from God has the impact of fracturing the community of faith, or causing other believers to question their faith, you are on very thin ice and need to proceed cautiously.  Even if you are fully convinced that you are following something of God, if it causes other believers to leave the faith, it is not to be celebrated (cf. 1 Corinthians 8):

But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols?11 So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed.12 But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.

Without going off on an entirely different tangent here, this teaching is one of the things that has convinced me the modern church’s drive to become acceptable to the culture is not something that is of Christ.  Paul is quite clear – even if you think you are the more mature and stronger believer, if your practice makes weaker believers question the faith you are to with hold from that practice.  If you continue (and particularly if you do so believing God is calling you to proceed) in spite of the impact on other believers, you are sinning against Christ.  Paul’s conclusion is stark: if my food habits cause other believers to stumble, I will never eat meat.

This is an important teaching when the church is wrestling with the introduction of innovation – a whole new thing.  It leads to one of the tests set out below – things that are of God will result in the building up of Christ’s body always and everywhere.  Things that are not of God will act to divide and weaken the body.  If your ‘whole new thing’ has the effect of causing the body to fracture, you need to step back and question if what you are so passionate about is really of God…or is it of something else?  (mammon)

I had been asked in the past to put together a list of ways to ‘test the spirits’.  The list below is the result, partly developed from the reference listed at the end.  In considering anything (including what your preachers tell you from the pulpit) in the church, these tests help to determine what is of God, and what is not:

1. Continuity with apostolic tradition. Is the claim being made continuous with what is apostolic in the tradition (that is, passed down from the apostles to the present day); or, is it an entirely new thing? (A test of tradition)

2. Congruence with Scripture. Is it congruent with what the Word of God in Scripture is speaking? God must be consistent with God, so something that contradicts Scripture needs to be tested further. (A test of Scripture)

3. Consistency with worship. Is it consistent with the community’s prayer and worship. Lex orandi, lex credendi, roughly, the way of prayer is the way of belief (aka, if you want to know what Anglicans believe, come and worship with us – a test of praxis)

4. Catholicity. Is it truly catholic (universal), meaning true for the church everywhere and not just in one place?

5. Consonance with experience. Is it consonant with experience; that is, does it ring true to life in faith?  Does it result in good things in the community of believers?

6. Conformity with conscience. Is it in keeping with good conscience? (A test of moral doctrine)

7. Consequence. What are the effects or consequences? What is of God will grow the body, bring believers deeper in faith, heal the broken hearted, release the captives…if it fails to do that, or does the reverse, it is probably not of God.

8. Cruciality. Is the spirit that is being advocated pertinent to, or an evasion of, what is crucial, what matters most, in the situation at hand? (Doctrine does not address things like, the colour of wallpaper; or whether we should believe in trans- or consubstantiation).

9. Coherence. Is it coherent in relation to classical modes of thought? (A test of reason)

10. Comprehensiveness. How comprehensive is the particular teaching with respect to the full range of Christian confession?

11. Prayer. Does it return from submission to God in prayer affirmed or denied?

12. Community consideration. Does it pass the test of the community?  This draws on the role of brothers and sisters in the faith in keeping us accountable.
Items 1-10 are based on “Theology as the Task of Disbelief,” Christopher Morse, Circuit Rider, July/August 1995, pp. 8-9 (c) 1995 Abingdon Press

Written by sameo416

September 1, 2014 at 11:34 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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