Thursday, November 28, 2019

#28 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (misandry)

It is not misogynist to assert that misandry is as significant a dynamic in gender relations as misogyny itself. It is also not misogynist to bring misandry “out of the closet” and to refuse to tolerate the silence, avoidance, denial and imbalance of its role in all encounters between men and women. Further, keeping it “off the table” of public discussion risks enhancing the likelihood of an impertinent and potentially heated encounter. 

According to Wikipedia, misandry is the hatred of, contempt for, or prejudice against men or boys in general. Misandry may be manifested in numerous ways, including social exclusion, sex discrimination, hostility, gynocenrtrism, matriarchy, belittling of men, violence against men, and sexual objectification. Such attitudes may be normalised culturally, such as through humour at the expense of men or boys, or blaming all world problems on men, or suggesting that men are redundant.
Whether portrayed in any one of many television commercials depicting men as fools, stupid, disconnected, distracted, or worse, absent, or in Shakespere’s plays in which women in general have to marry down and men are portrayed as narcissistic and not to be trusted, or in North American culture which depicts African-American men too often as either infantile or as eroticized and hyper-masculine…Feminist Christina Hoff Sommers notes “in Eve Ensler’s play, The Vagina Monologues, there are no admirable males…the play presents a rogues gallery of male brutes, sadists, child-molesters, genital mutilators, gang rapists and hateful little boys…and most men are not brutes.. They are oppressors. (From the Hudson Review, as quoted on Wikipedia)

So obviously taken as the universal characterization of men in twenty-first century North America, these images do at least two things:
1) for women, they endorse and enhance an extremely negative view of men and
2) for men, they impose a radioactive barbed wire enclosing the word misandry in a vault of silence, endangering the fool who might open that vault and let the word and the concept out.

Adding to the implications of this kind of language and cultural meme, there is also the daily drum beat of media stories in which men betray, abuse and take advantage of women, all of these stories fuelling the fire of  legitimate female anger, vengeance and the outrage of an ascerbic sisterhood.

On the other side, men, unlike our female partners, daughters, sisters, aunts, mothers and grandmothers, we are not the least bit inclined to bond together in a collective response to this stereotype. The Canadian Centre for Men and Families is currently conducting a fund-raiser to enhance public awareness of the billboard advertising campaign whose headline reads:

                MEN: 75% of all suicides in Canada

Clearly, it would be a gross mistake to attribute male suicides anywhere to misandry, exclusively. Yet, it would also be reasonable to consider how misandry impacted the lives of men willing to do harm to themselves. It is primarily such consideration of misandry when investigating, researching and documenting troublesome gender encounters that this piece advocates. Ironically, and perhaps even paradoxically, the church has the opportunity to provide leadership in this regard, given the profound tradition in civil and criminal law that excludes or turns a blind eye to this dynamic. Current cultural vernacular, norms and expectations, too, tend to be deaf to the implications of misandry.

Discerning any potential difference between a woman’s negative animus and a more foundational misandry, if indeed there might be one, could be one of North American men’s most complex and difficult and necessary insights to be learned, and then to be passed along to other men.

Women have developed a plethora of both overt and covert behaviours, utterances, attitudes and body language to express contempt for the men in their lives. Deferring to the stereotype of “oppressor” as contained in The Vagina Monologues, as the starting point and the whole truth in the female “interpretation” of gender conflict, has to shift. And the shift could begin with a cultural window-opening to the potential presence and impact of misandry.

While hardly exhaustive, some of those expressions include:

·        Whistling around the house when angry and while seeking to chastise son or husband or both
·        Projecting the lower plate of false teeth through the lips to depict a grizzly hateful picture of wife/mother
·        Failing to show up to the dinner table, when the meal has been served
·        Throwing the Christmas dinner out the front door, as the family arrived on Christmas Day (an authentic story)
·        Packing a bag and leaving the house at 3.00 a.m. after inquiring whether the ten-year-old wishes to “come with me or stay with your father” (another piece of history)
·        Withdrawal of affection and all signs of participation in male-female relationships
·        Assumption/presumption of the need for exaggerated messaging because “men just don’t and won’t listen”
·        Clubbing at parties with other women, fully engaged in the game of “male-character-assassination.”
·        Propagating the myth that men “only want one thing”
·        Faking orgasm
·        Refusing to partner a male with ED
·        Scape-goating the male in the relationship
·        Transferring anger and betrayal from one situation to another, without acknowledging the transference
·        Assuming/presuming a greater sense of responsibility and maturity than a male partner
·        Playing the victim role in the relationship while painting the male as bully
·        Assessing female sisterhood as more emotionally mature than different evidence of male bonding
·        Carrying the belief that “I married beneath me” through a marriage
·        Engaging in male-bashing as part of the workplace culture
·        Exposing intimate details of a relationship to female “friends”
·        Displacing anger (negative emotions) from an in-law to a spouse
·        Stereotyping males as having only two emotions: anger and sadness
·        Using sex as a negotiating strategy to achieve a different objective
·        Substituting a “role image” for the whole person of the male partner (CEO, General, Judge, Surgeon etc.)
·        Reducing the male partner to a “cheque”

Put up against many males who neither comprehend a negative animus, or any notion of a projection (ideal or not so much), nor do we have a sophisticated language to capture our feelings, except that we know “something doesn’t feel good,” these and other behaviours tend to pass unacknowledged in many situations. Consequently, the behaviours, and the attitudes underlying each of them, can tend to fester, often generating a dialogue of the deaf.

Men have simply not been trained to function in the forest and winds of female emotions. We are not apprenticed in reading facial language, body language, except in the case when an often-repeated negative expression which will evoke an immediate internal response: “She is very upset, unhappy, disappointed, angry, mad or even disillusioned.” For us, the question of what to do at that moment, however, seems overwhelmingly complicated. We feel inadequate, insecure, fragile and disconnected, much of this emotional response coming, involuntarily from our own bodies. We feel that we are on the edge of an emotional precipice, for which we have not trained. There was no undergrad program in relationship-building in health class. They tended to be dedicated to the dangers of pregnancy, the anatomy of the human body, the dangers of drug dependence and perhaps, at a time in the distant past, even dance lessons. When we were in high school, and were expected to read about human emotions, we clearly noted a very different approach between the male and female characters. We identified with the male “actors” and their motivations, or not, and generally deferring when discussion turned to observations and interpretations of female emotions and motivations.

Highly “sensate” (in that much of our messages about the world come through our senses), we adolescent males were not tuned into concepts like tuition, empathy, compassion or even the complexities of a loving human relationship. Questions about the physical beauty of the female character in a movie, (objectification) dominated our volatile hormonal perceptions. And we did not recognize or understand objectifying of another. We easily adopted the “male patterning” of disdaining anything effeminate when we were in middle school and then we shifted to something like awe and wonder about the near-by girls as we processed through middle and later adolescence. 

Occasionally, we were asked to “baby-sit” by a family friend or neighbour; some of us “took to it” more easily and effectively than others. We were guests at weddings and the parties that accompany these social celebrations, without becoming intimately engaged in the quality of the relationship between the partners. Generally, we either disdained the male attire of the wedding party, or perhaps found it both interesting and captivating.

These somewhat generalized observations of the pathway of most young men, as an unofficial apprenticeship for love and marriage, could be summed up in a word: ad hoc. Whatever situations, conversations, encounters, conflicts and successful dates we each experienced all helped to paint the preface of how we might have entered into those really serious male-female relationships.

Naturally, too, our relationships with our mothers, the first woman in our lives, plays a significant and long-lasting role in our perceptions, attitudes, and expectations of our female dates and potential partners. Fathers, too, play their part, although in many cases, they were more disassociated, detached than our mothers, and certainly with far fewer verbal exchanges about how to navigate the currents of male-female relationships. The culture of upholding “masculinity” without defaulting into the female culture, seemed important. And the degree to which we considered it important, given our family’s culture, would have an important impact on our strength or fragility of our own masculinity. If we played the piano, for example, we would already have encountered epithets like “fag” and if we were talented artists, singers, we might also have endured similar taunts all of them from other males.

The culture, especially the masculine culture, in North America, is intensively averse to supporting men who have “soft” male traits, who are gay or trans. Women, by contrast, are far less enraged by the spectre of a sensitive, or gay male. Some women have written and spoken positively about being around gay men, given that they feel no pressure from them. Nevertheless, the “masculine” macho stereotype has such a deep and firm hold on what North American culture considers an acceptable, honourable and even respectable masculinity. Some church leaders, tragically, have instituted “reformation” programs to bring about a complete and total and permanent change in personhood for gay men, back to being straight. Fortunately, this movement has been deemed unlawful in several jurisdictions.

A dialogue between misogyny and misandry is not going to have a healthy, healing and transformative impact on our gender relations. Nor is a dialogue, including research, public policy and literary and entertainment models that permits the existence, relevance and significance of misogyny, without at the same time, permitting the existence, relevance, and significance of misandry going to offer a beacon of light and hope into the dark corners of our gender relations. Men and women, both, are not only capable of, but also fully engaged in expressions of their respective contempt for the opposite gqaender. However a cultural wave of not only tolerance but also deference to misogyny, while ignoring misandry, is and will continue to plant seeds of perceived injustice, and add to the mountains of intolerance that can and does come between men and women.

Of course, it has to be acknowledged that women perceive their lot as “needing serious amendment and repair” in order to even begin to approximate gender equity. Men, for our part, have an obligation to engage in such dialogue, without falling into the “scape-goat” or victim, or “oppressor” or “abuser” stereotype. Having come from a family of origin in which the father incarnated the compassionate, empathic, collaborative, collegial peace-maker model while the mother incarnated precisely the opposite: the warrior, the bully, the tyrant, and the detached especially with regard to parenting, while serving up meals, needles, comfort and compassion to her nursing patients, I offer these observations, coming in part from the history that is recorded deeply in my veins, my brain and my conscience.

Inviting the North American culture to open the door of its eyes, ears, minds, hearts and spines to the prospect of an honest, full-throated, full-bodied and full-minded/hearted dialogue that not merely permits the concept of misandry a place at the table, but actually fosters its welcome. The extremes of misogyny and misandry can and will be mediated, moderated and detoxified if and when both are acknowledged as real, without permitting anyone to seek and to find refuge behind either.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

#27 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (self-emasculation)

There is a blank and silent emptiness in our public debate about our male-female relationships.

And the two poles of that debate, not articulated, are misandry and spineless men.
We are so deeply embedded in symptoms, practicalities, how-to’s, menus, and user manuals that we either refrain from, or worse, refuse to acknowledge two incompatible and dangerously juxtaposed polarities. Men who have lost, abandoned, or denied our spines, at a time when women, many of them espousing a latent, deviant, and silent misandry, are taken together, like a wave pool, generating waves of tension, conflict, and the total devastation of individual lives, of both men and women.

All of the stereotypes about the differences between men and women, so many of them trite and platitudinous, aside, we are left with a picture of irreconcilable forces: women who have contempt for men, whether of individuals or generalized to the gender, and men whose addiction to “avoiding trouble” and complying with the political, ideological, and even theological agendas of women fail themselves, their families and their female partners and colleagues.

The women who, decades ago, determined to take over an institution like the church, on behalf of their besieged, denigrated, and defamed sisters, can be seen, in retrospect, to have deployed  what could be called a military strategy, based on the premise that the institution had for centuries, led by men, deliberately conspired to exclude women from the halls of power and decision-making. Ironically, they found that their campaign met a phalanx of one of the best (read worst) incarnations of T.S. Eliot’s Hollow Men, the ecclesial hierarchy.

Historically dedicated to the execution of power in what can only be described as a secretive, deceptive, stealth-like, manner circumscribed and camouflaged in a fog of incense, religiosity, the veneer of niceness, managed in large part by an imposed cultural model of “political correctness”, bishops, archbishops and clergy, all male, incarnated an image of studied intellectual sophistication, surreptitious and devious alliances with men of political power and wealth, while commanding positions of community adulation. This melodrama, played out in villages, rural parishes, towns and cities, complete with the velvet (if not sacred) covering of the political establishment, taught so many lies and deceptions about God, about scripture, and about how to live that to begin to unpack them would entail a multitude of library archives.

Very quiet voices, intervening in the most intimate, life-death moments of trauma, almost like a human placebo, allegedly representing God, laid on hands, prayed over and anointed the dying in dedication to the pursuit of a hierarchy of power, control and spiritual “humility” belied, tragically, in the very act. Performing the penitential, the confession, as an institutional act of “forgiveness” based on the sacrifice of the Cross, these men were alleged to be offering a kind of emotional and spiritual comfort that is based, first on an exclusive claim by the church to have the authority to discharge this “blessing,” these men were/are required to close the ritual by asking the penitent to “pray for me a sinner”….Nevertherless, over the centuries, these same clergy and bishops, in the even to their own “sin,” were themselves exposed to the most viscous and contemptible hatred as the belief system of the institution needed their elimination in order to preserve the “sanctity” and “purity” of the faith. The code of obedience to the authority of the church, as envisioned by the person in power, required even punishments as dire as death, if and when certain people were expressing, doing, committing evil, as the church perceived it.

Naturally, as an integral component of the church’s faith expression, the cultural memes were so integrated into the institutional culture. Conforming, for example, to capitalism, and the elevation of the rich and powerful to the top of the political,  social and cultural totem pole, came embedded into the faith praxis. When those with affluence could be attracted to become active in a parish, their cheques were/are celebrated as ‘gifts of God’ especially where and when a church is struggling financially. (And which church is not struggling financially, over the last many centuries?) Nevertheless, the pandering of the bishops to the rich and powerful was not the only direction of their pandering.

Men, especially robed and mitred, were also skilled panderers to the women in their parishes, dioceses. Linen needed to be cleaned and folded; coffee and tea had to be readied for “community building” and “refreshments;” even lessons needed to be read, and very often lay men were resistant to those invitations. As in every family, women provided many of the services that kept the machine running in an efficient and effective way. Cleaning, decorating, singing hymns and anthems, teaching in the church education activity, networking among the wider community, organizing and hosting bazaars and bake sales, all of these and more activities were then characterized as “better left to the women”…(if we really want them to work!)

Men like and even depend on a division of roles, especially as the divisions attempt to preserve the gender “separateness” and “identities” of each gender. This, it can be argued, is a cultural requirement (unstated) of many men, who, so insecure in our definition of our gender (sexuality) and not a need of most women. Carrying over from centuries of habit, ritualized into liturgy, and then sanctified as “pleasing to God,” many of church habits come barnacled with cultural requirements. The anality of the preservation of some of these habits is evident in the critical and caustic comments of “old hands” in Altar Guilds if and when they notice a linen improperly folded by a neophyte, whom they had studiously failed to “train”.

The church is, unavoidably, a cauldron of boiling ego’s, theologies, balance sheets, repairs, and especially local reputations on numbers and wealth. Each and every  issue carries the overtone of gender politics. In an overt (or even unconscious) and deliberate move to avoid being “domineering” to the women in the parish, male clergy find themselves navigating among the multiple personal agendas of the various women who seek recognition, reward and acknowledgement in the clergy choices of names to fill roles. Some campaign to be treasurer, especially if their need for control “the money” overflows their absolute control of their own family’s budget. Some campaign to be warden, especially if their family were among the original families in the parish, decades ago. Some seek roles as soloists, some as committee chairs, some as leaders of church schools, and some as diocesan representatives. In general, men have to have their arms twisted to assume ecclesial leadership roles.

The church has been oiled by the fuel of women’s belief in its value, in the need for its continuing presence in the community and the opportunity it offers to the women to join a “sisterhood” under its banner. Lay men, on the other hand, are more detached about their relationship with the church, often deferring to the nudges of their spouses to accompany them to worship, and then being dragged kicking and screaming (often laughingly) into some leadership role. Male deference to women, nevertheless, remains a permanent and dominant cultural given in many churches. Little if any conversation about the nuances of scriptural heuristics, the nuances of homilies, unless there was a glaring and impolitic line that enraged some, or of the historic timeline of the community (except at a timely anniversary) can be heard in most parishes.

The health of the balance sheet, the need to find new ways to attract new adherents, especially the young (“whose lives are so busy with the activities of their children!) and the need to order supplies, however, rank high among church conversations. In that pattern, no one is exposed as being confused, troubled, searching or even struggling with a personal issue, or a spiritual/faith issue. In fact, personal questions and issues, are relegated to the clergy as the ‘spiritual guru’ in the venue, likely in the belief that the clergy has been trained to resolve or at least to guide in one’s pursuit of clarity.
Adding to the mystique of the clergy, completely missing from any formal training in seminary, are the multiple projections of the women in the parish, onto the clergy. Some of these projections, naturally, are highly negative; others, quite positive. The capacity of discernment to separate authentic relational attitudes from projections, however, is left to the individual clergy, without the support of people who know the people in the pews, having known most of them for some time, whereas the clergy is often only recently appointed. (It may also be relevant to mention the unconscious projections of male congregants onto female clergy, a subject about which I am ignorant.)

Relationships inside parishes, naturally, swirl around many issues that cross over into the personal lives of people sitting in those pews. Society’s dependence on new digital technology, or the growing epidemic of youth emotional issues, and even suicides, vaping, dependence on alcohol or prescription and/or illicit drugs, and the church’s response to various community/social/political/values issues like teen pregnancy…these are just some of the issues being addressed.

However, over-riding any discussion of issues, including their inclusion in homilies, church study groups, or even in conversations is the question of “how we relate” as members of this congregation. If we are Anglicans/Episcopalians, for example, we do not share our private thoughts, or especially our feelings, unless or until we are so offended that we have no choice. We patronize the clergy homily, as “a nice address this morning,” or we ask politely, “How are you?” as we depart and shake hands with the clergy, and others. Privately, we converse about the “numbers” of parishioners in other churches, especially if those numbers eclipse “ours” or have fallen significantly. Tending also to elevate community leaders, especially those who have chosen “our” church, and especially to elevate those “affluent” serves to underscore and sustain a cultural model which is both literally and metaphorically counter-intuitive to the gospel.

Such deviance, however, is far too dangerous to expose; consequently it goes unaddressed, unless a clergy exposes it for what it is, at his/her serious risk.
After a provincial premier had announced drastic cuts in funding to transit services for the challenged, one clergy challenged the cuts and was effectively removed from the honorary assignment with the charge, “We cannot have the clergy taking on the premier we just voted into office!” (I know, I was the clergy!)

It is amid the rising tide of feminist political activity, that the deferring, mendicant, perhaps passive-aggressive male hierarchical leadership has so demonstrated a self-emasculation, to the detriment not only of the ecclesial institution, but also to the feminine warriors. While it is indisputably true that male clergy, especially among the required celibates, have abused both children and women, (as have men inside families of all social, economic and intellectual levels), it is also true that male ecclesial leaders have forsaken their legitimate role of investigating in detail, all expressions of injustice and abuse. And such investigations have to be based on a very different cultural model than the one that has plagued the church for centuries. What emasculated male is even modestly likely to include in his lexicon the word misandry, when investigating a conflict between men and women? And the word has not gained traction either among women in the west, so females investigating and prosecuting conflicts between men and women are hardly likely to include even the concept in their method and manner of questioning and investigating.

Pandering, even in a passive-aggressive manner, by men in power to women who perceive themselves to be in a submissive relationship, (seriously needing investigation!) serves to preserve a fossilized and stereotypical definition of both men and women. All men and women, no matter the “rank” they occupy in any organization, are first a man or a woman. And that truth is not, cannot, and will not be changed through the assumption of a role in the institution. The flow of one’s emotions, including those of mutual attraction, cannot be circumscribed by the rules of “deportment” imposed by an organization, especially when the imposition is based on a distortion of the integral strength and power and spine of both men and women.

Protecting male executives from the potential of relationships with female subordinates, or the reverse of protecting women executives from similar relationships as a means of keeping uncomplicated the “effectiveness” and the “efficiency” of the organization, is an example of deferment to a political ideology developed and pursued by authentic feminists. Their belief that such a posture offers more safety in the face of a male of “power” elevates the power structure over the authenticity and the integrity of the relationship. A similar elevation of organizational “norms” and needs over the integrous, authentic flow of human emotions between men and women, a river whose source and flow that supercedes its wanton disregard contemporary social and cultural power structures, demeans both men and women.

And the men whose fear of “confronting” the female onslaught of collective power only echoes the cadences of male “inferiority” that comprises many of the foundational principles of the churches’ praxis over the centuries. Confining man-woman relationships to marriage, for example, is another of the unsustainable, and “weak” pursuits of church “fathers” as a way of securing and maintaining control of their parishioners. Confining scriptural interpretation to the endorsement of slavery, capital punishment, and Christian membership to straight men and women are other glaring examples of the weakness, the insecurity and the impotence of too many men. And such impotence is not an indication of the kind of surrender, and vulnerability to which Christian discipleship invites. That kind of vulnerability and surrender, not in service of organizational and hierarchical structure and power, serves as a candle of light in the deep and profound darkness of invincibility, superiority, dominance, righteousness, and the obligation to enforce a kind of justice that fails utterly to consider all of the factors in each individual situation. The cultural (and religious) dictate of silence, avoidance of conflict, and the preference to eliminate offenders, is neither sustainable nor justified. Such a process only underlines the ineffectuality, the political and psychological, and even spiritual avoidance of responsibility.

And it is a male addiction to that invincibility, superiority, dominance, and the concomitant righteousness that erases humility, uncertainty, ambiguity and the pursuit of the whole truth (unimpeded by personal agendas, ambition, and organizational demands) that like the undercurrent in all oceans and rivers, that threatens to overturn the boats of all who ignore or deny its power and eternality.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

#26 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (death)

The hero is the man of self-achieved submission. But submission to what? That precisely is the riddle that today we have to ask ourselves and that it is everywhere the primary virtue and historic deed of the hero to have solved. Only birth can conquer death—the birth, not of the old again, but of something new. Within the soul, within the body social, there must be a continuous “recurrence of birth” a rebirth, to nullify the unremitting recurrences of death. For it is by means of our own victories, if we are not regenerated, that the work of Nemesis is wrought: doom breaks from the shell of our very virtue. Peace then is a snare; war is a snare; permanence is a snare. When our day is come for victory of death, death closes in; there is nothing we can do except be crucified—and resurrected; dismembered totally, and then reborn. (Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Voices, 1949)

Proximity to, reflection on, confrontation with and fear of the fact, the image, the metaphor and the existential and eschatological implications of death…these are some of the more obvious and also deleterious avoidances of contemporary western culture. Whether death is considered an evil, or an ambiguous and mysterious end, or a passing through to another realm, it enters our consciousness from a wide range of experiences. We read about death in literature; we see death occurring in our news reports; we read death notices and obituaries of colleagues, friends and even family. Occasionally, we are faced with a tragic death of a young boy or girl, seemingly an inexplicable event that, once again, generates confusion, anxiety and becomes another of the transformational moments seemingly begging if not demanding our attention, at the moment, and likely for the rest of our lives. We can only guess that Joseph Campbell’s words hint at and infer an intimate, indissoluble connection between some kind of birth and death. Facing the moment of death, when we are stripped of will and agency, we are then at the gate of rebirth. So it is not surprising that a reflective, deliberate and designed pathway toward some role in pastoral care would bring aspiring candidates face to face with death.

While a student of theology and also of pastoral counselling, I had occasion to enter into two different deaths, not merely of different individuals, but more importantly in very different circumstances. In one instance, I was assigned to a parish in which a clergy had, tragically, taken his life, two years prior to my arrival. This assignment followed on the heels of a clinical pastoral education unit in hospital chaplaincy, in which one of the requirements was to attend an autopsy.

It is to the latter experience that I refer first.

Five colleagues comprised the class with a supervising chaplain. We were informed early one morning that, at 1:00 p.m. we would be attending an autopsy and then preparing a theological reflection on our experience. In my mid-forties, I had visited family members of friends, colleagues and associates who had recently experienced the death of a loved one. My immediate reaction to the information of the impending afternoon with the pathologist was heightened nerves, rapid and short breathing, and questions to myself about my ‘strength’ to endure such an experience. I had been assigned to the emergency room, and to the palliative care ward and had visited patients near death, in a coma, and with families accompanying their loved one near their death. I had participated in one or two funerals, as an intern, and, while this new direction was not unexpected, it was nevertheless a challenge.

Just prior to the pre-determined time, I met with the supervisor, who, in considerable wisdom and sensitivity, and likely based on a similar experience with other chaplain apprentices, quietly uttered these words: “Just go to the autopsy and if you find you have to leave, give yourself permission to leave!” I had already been required to participate as witness to a hernia surgery during which I had been taken out of the operating room by a nurse who noticed my potential to faint. After a few moments, I returned to experience the last stages of the operation. The supervisor’s “gate-opening” to leave the autopsy came as a momentous relief, given the gravity of the experience as I then conceived it.

We five put on scrubs upon entering the pathology lab with the pathologist and his assistant, noting the covered body of a middle-aged woman who had died earlier that morning. The suspected cause of death was heart attack…and with that the procedure began. Remaining some feet away from the foot of the gurney, I tentatively and intermittently glanced toward the body, as the pathologist began his quiet, careful and sensitive work. Upon seeing the heart, he opined that the heart was completely healthy, thereby removing the alleged cause of death. It was only when he opened the lungs that he found a baseball-size tumour that had obviously been a cause of her death. He later found a small, metastasized tumour, about the size of the end of a little finger on her brain, that had also been instrumental in causing her death.

As the process unfolded, I found myself moving closer to the foot-end of the gurney, mesmerized and fascinated at the highly complex, inter-connected complexity of organs, vessels, and the sheer awe and wonder at how mystical, mysterious and perhaps even miraculous was the human body. Of course,  the experience itself had its own significant contribution to my heightened consciousness, and lowered anxieties. Engrossed, engaged, and even overwhelmed are words that are still capturing the experience in memory, thirty-one years later. After an energized and protracted walk around the campus of the hospital of about three hours, time needed to “come down” from the impact of what I had witnessed, felt, and thought in that perhaps one or two hours, I finally settled enough to begin the “reflection.” The symmetry, the poetry, the complexity and the fragility of the human body, and all of its many complex and diversely deployed organs simply and symphonically intoned a truth to which I had previously been deaf and dumb.

Of course, I came away with a profound respect for the professionalism of both pathologist and his assistant as well as an even more enriched reverence for God and this ‘piece’ of his creation. Humbling, and stimulating, enervating and enlivening, that day is indelibly carved in my memory and my being as part of how I see each person, and, so long as my defences are not over-wrought, how I prefer to remain in awe of each person’s personhood, different from his/her identity, in the conventional sense of that word. In participation in the process of the dying, the visiting with the dying family member, the funeral preparations and burial, I have brought these reflections into each succeeding chapter of ministry practice as would anyone who had shared in the experience.

Certainly, a rebirth of consciousness, a new depth of the overpowering complexity of this “universe” of the human being, infused me with a new spirit of honour, respect, humility and determination that bore heavily on my decision to pursue a path of “inner reflection” when I undertook these studies.

The assignment as intern to a small parish where the clergy had taken his life, however, came some two years following the event. As a cataclysmic tragedy in the life of such a fragile, small and struggling church community, this death seemed to hang like a kind of cloud over the ethos of this group. When I preached on the second anniversary of the death, and mentioned the name of the deceased clergy, I was unaware that that was the first utterance of the name in the intervening two years, from the pulpit. Tears were evident on the faces of some in the pews, following the service, and they expressed gratitude as they departed.

Organizational grief work, while important, is nevertheless not paramount as a specific diocesan priority in most regions so “professionals” are often called in from other areas. As I later learned, when, with my faculty advisor and the support of the clergy, together we proposed, designed and delivered a “grief” process as part of the Lenten Study of the parish. Resistance, in the form and words of, “This is all in the past and we want to leave it there!” came from some of the members of the parish who had been there at the time of the incident. Others, however, hesitatingly put their toes into the ‘water’ of the conversations, following an  introductory homily by the faculty advisor. This death, while serving as the clergy, left a deep residue of not only grief but also of betrayal, anger, disappointment and deep questions of “faith” and the meaning and purpose of faith in a clergy leader in the Christian church.

Pivotal, again, is the occurrence of death in the lives of any who are closely connected in any way to the death, especially if that death is self-inflicted, and even more so if that death is the result of one’s own actions. In a faith community, self-inflicted death could potentially be the most nefarious, unexpected and thereby traumatic event to which a parish is or can be exposed. “Picking up the pieces” and putting things back “to normal” as organizations seek to do, however, is not easily congruent with a pastoral grieving process. Grieving, a highly private, and even spiritual process, evokes the totality of one’s person, his/her consciousness, his/her faith, his/her sense of where God is in all of this, and his/her sense of hope, one of the sine qua non’s of any faith pilgrimage.

In the evening Lenten study sessions, I learned, virtually by accident, of how important and relevant is the process of grieving, if opened up and accessible to minds, spirits and hearts that are themselves open and vulnerable to the truth of their experience, including their deepest emotions. One of the significant figures in the Easter narrative is Judas, the Betrayer, and clearly this congregation felt betrayed by the act of their clergy. Almost as if these words came from a cloud hovering near the ceiling of the room, I uttered them, without fully grasping their source or their impact: “If we are going to look at how we have been betrayed, we could and must also look at how we have been a betrayer to others.” The clergy immediately inquired, “How have you been a betrayer?” (We had had no prior conversations about how this session would proceed!) Apparently feeling very little anxiety amid these people who had embraced my internship fully, I responded: “When I left my marriage, I did not intend to betray my daughters; yet I have no doubt that they would have felt betrayed by my leaving.”

The next morning, upon reporting to the bishop the content of the evening’s session, the clergy heard these words from the bishop: “That’s evil and must be stopped” The bishop was apparently enforcing his authority to supervise and monitor the “theological process” that was taking place in one of his parishes. Without further sanction from either clergy or faculty advisor, we continued the process. It was at the funeral of that same faculty advisor, two years later, that the clergy and I were approached by that bishop who uttered these words: “The process of grief work that was undertaken in that parish was healing and the parish has benefitted from it!”

It is not only the anatomical mystery that accompanies death, if the cause at first is unapparent; it is also the social, cultural, theological and spiritual mystery that parallels the anatomical symmetry and complexity and musicality of the human being.

There is little doubt that our life is bordered by both birth and death and the vulnerability of which Joseph Campbell writes, incapsulating the new life that can come only from our surrender, can be and is metaphorically and psychically connected to the new life that  always accompanies a death. That we are not always or often conscious of the new life, in the midst of our grief, however, is not evidence of its absence, rather evidence of our then inability to access its depth and gift.

From Professor Campbell’s, The Power of Myth, we find these words:
“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I thing that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”

To be sure, the pursuit of purpose and meaning, in the existential (Frankl) explication, need not exclude Campbell’s “rapture of being alive”. In fact, it seems to this scribe that each is a complement to the other, rather than an exclusion of the other.

It is not cognition that can or will explain the mystery of death, nor is it science that can open the mysteries of death. Even faith, a belief in things unseen. From a Jewish perspective, “faith is confidence in what we hope for and the assurance that the lord is working even though we cannot see it…and given that death is our most complex mystery, no words, no experiences, no emotions and no prescriptions can either explain or anatomize the beauty and the gift of death.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

#25 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (KE#g)

Advocating for an internal, college/church process of conflict resolution is not done as a way of preserving or enhancing a separation between church and state. Rather, it is proferred on the premise that the church, theoretically, idealistically, hopefully and imaginatively could make substantial contributions to the cutting edge of how people who cross boundaries need to be treated inside its borders and, over time, perhaps even in the secular culture. This is not merely a matter of justice in the legal or ethical sense; it is a matter of human survival and clearly a matter of the incarnation of a faith worthy of the name.

And at the core of the process of resolving conflict, both in the secular and the ‘sacred’ cultures, has for centuries depended on what can legitimately by argued is a masculine definition of what it means to be a man. In a recent piece in The Atlantic, entitled General Chaos, What Top Military Leaders Think About Trump, Mark Bowden quotes one general:

He (trump) doesn’t understand the warrior ethos…the warrior ethos is important because it’s sort of a sacred covenant not just among members of the military profession, but between the profession and the society in whose name we fight and serve. The warrior ethos transcends the laws of war; it governs your behaviour. The warrior ethos makes units effective because of the values of trust and self-sacrifice associated with it –but the warrior ethos also makes wars less inhumane and allows our profession to maintain our self-respect and to be respected by others. Man, if the warrior ethos gets misconstrued into ‘Kill them all…’ he said trailing off. Teaching soldiers about ethical conduct in war is not just about morality; If you treat civilians disrespectfully, you’re working for the enemy! Trump doesn’t understand that….
Having never served or been near a battlefield, several of the generals said, Trump exhibits a simplistic, badly outdated notion of soldiers as supremely ‘tough’—hard men asked to perform hard and sometimes ugly jobs. He also buys into a severely outdated concept of leadership. The general, all of whom have led troops in combat, know better than most that war is hard and ugly, but their understanding of ‘toughness’ goes well beyond the gruff stoicism of a John Wayne movie. Good judgement counts more than toughness.
Bolduc (a retired brigadier general who is currently running as a Republican  for the U.S. Senate in New Hampshire) said he came up in a military where it was accepted practice for senior officers to blame their subordinates, lose their temper, pound on desks, and threaten to throw things, and the response to that behavior was ‘He’s a hard ass. Right? He’s tough. That’s not leadership. You don’t get optimal performance being that way. You get optimal performance by being completely opposite of that. Mark Bowden, The Atlantic, November 2019, p. 49)

The church, as a quasi-military organization, built on a hierarchical structure, has for centuries followed the military “ethos” and the stereotype of a strong masculine figure as a hard-ass, decisive, detached, invulnerable, dispassionate, disdainful of his own emotions and clearly disdainful of any physical ailment, and the need, except and unless in a near-fatal emergency, to seek medical help. This stereotype, far beyond the John Wayne papier-mache rendition of its depth and complexity, has greased the path of millions of ‘generals’ no matter the title of their office, including pope, bishop, archbishop, principal, judge, magistrate, chief. Uniforms, albs, chasaubles, mitres, medals, stripes, and various physical and mental rituals have embodied the “leadership model” that been enmeshed, both consciously unconsciously, overtly and subversively, on a ‘given’ and ‘accepted’ notion of a highly respected, highly honoured, highly admired and even elevated figure of the “very masculine” male.

Love stories, war stories, political empires, treaties, speeches and new laws have been framed between and among the strong man and the sexual woman. In fact, it can be argued that the pathway of many romances began with a glint in the eye of a young woman envisioning or actually witnessing a man in a uniform. (Or, more deeply in the imagination of a young man who sensed that pursuing that uniform would enable the attraction of his life partner.) Such stuff of the human story, of course, has inevitably been fueled by the inevitable and inexorable hypocrisy that such a “perfect image” is not only unsustainable; such a perfect image is more likely to camouflage deeply dark, ironic and often tragic patterns of sin, evil, betrayal, injustice, manipulation and what the world knows as criminal or sick.

The “image” of leadership, of decisive and clear annunciation of various messages, corporate strategies, political ideologies, military plans, space voyages, surgical operations, and the necessary tactics and processes for their enactment, all follow a similar pattern, in the conventional secular, academic, ecclesial, military and corporate world. Revolutions, too, have needed and depended upon a similar model of leadership. Gangs, too, have named their “top dog” who then commands both the respect and fear of his followers. Leaders, like coaches, provide and embody the culture of their “platoon” or team, to the degree that history recounts their “watch” (another military term that is now embeded in our vernacular) under the umbrella of their personality, character and both its exemplary and its unsavoury traits and reputations.

What does all of this “leadership model” have to do with theology? Whether by design or more simply by default, church hierarchies have adopted, grafted, injected, and applied the make-up of conventional, secular and military-masculine imaging, as well as the concomitant behaviour, attitudes, processes and judgements that define wrong, and the people committing those ‘wrongs’ in a manner that has come to define our judicial system, or medical system, and our mental health and spirituality parameters and perceptions. Whatever behaviour that contravenes some rule, law, regulation, expectation, convention and public gossip (dependent and even enmeshed in those first five in this list) requires and even demands a perspective of deterrence, of rejection and in extremis, of elimination not only of the act but also of the person convicted of the act. Even acts of suicide, for example, are so heinous to an organizational hierarchy, perhaps because of the implicit shame, guilt and potential criticism of their leadership, that the steps taken to “clean up” the mess, (from the perspective of the hierarchy) are so devoid of sensibility, compassion, and introspection as to leave both the hierarchy and the suffering family and friends wandering in the wilderness of their unresolved grief for months or even years, too often alone and without opportunity to share intimate knowledge of circumstances behind the ‘act’.

This is not an argument that says all of societies ills, evils, or wrong-doings result directly or indirectly from a perverted, unsustainable, unsupportable and even a fundamental lie about the nature of masculinity. It does say, however, that, given that a large percentage of “wrongs” are committed by men, and that the system has been founded on a definition of what constitutes healthy masculinity, including a quick and glib investigation of the history, the biography and the context of any act of wrong-doing, (in order to save time and money, and to protect those investigating from public scorn and criticism including the presiding judges and magistrates), masculinity as defined by a complicit and somewhat unconscious, and insouciant culture, inside and outside the church, lies at the root of many of society’s anxieties.

Men, too, for our part, suffer both from an abandonment on the part of our peers, as well as a perception of needed strength, stoicism, invulnerability and stern judgement as “weak,” “effeminate,” “girlie,” or worse, “gay,”….and these epithets pre-date the latest political activism of the LGBTQ community. The conflict inside masculinity, exposed and expressed as one between tough hard-asses, red-necks, conservatives on the one hand and effete, liberal, intellectual, artsy and soft ‘never-men’ on the other infuses water cooler conversation, cultural memes, social media, political discourse (especially now with trump!) and threatens to derail the human enterprise if collaboration, co-operation, reconciliation, restorative justice, and a new definition of masculinity is not envisioned, incarnated, practiced, and embedded into world culture. This is not a matter of responsibility for a specific religious group, nor a specific language or ethnic culture, nor a specific economic model or ideology. It is also not a matter outside the parameters of global warming, artificial intelligence, cyber crime, space exploration, biological epidemics, or all of the various methods of corporate, political, military, diplomatic, or judicial conflict.

A recent explosion of public contempt has erupted following the uttering of “you people” (in reference to immigrants to Canada) who love “our milk and honey” and yet won’t spend a couple of buck to but a poppy to honour our military, who fought for our way of life. As a long-time talking head on Hockey Night in Canada, a revered national sport-commentary, Don Cherry has given voice to some of the most demeaning, insulting and personally offensive comments against a variety of hockey players from countries other than Canada. Canadians have, for the most part, dismissed them because “that’s just Don being Don.” Immigrants, many of whose fathers and grandfathers are themselves military veterans, however, do not take kindly to the slur of being referred to as “you people”.

In part, Cherry embodies an Anglo-Saxon view of Canada, based on a history that has passed us by, and has done so at a pace some elderly find beyond the speed of sound. An octogenarian neighbour wondered how, for example, a petition of over 200,000 could be developed in support of Cherry in hours since he did not know where to ‘sign’ in his town. The internet has developed, and transformed communication, while he continues to read the daily newspaper. I have no idea whether Dean Slater at Trinity should have been removed following the hearing over comments he made allegedly angering the sensibilities and the character of a female colleague. What I do not doubt, however, is that people of faith, good faith, and allegedly the same faith perceptions, values, ethics and responsibilities, having read and reflected on the same history, tradition, church ‘father’s and contemporary praxis and scholarship, did not come to a resolution that would have/could have? generated a more equitable, and thereby more just verdict, inside a process designed and delivered by people of the Christian faith.

Of course, the history of religion and specifically, of the Christian faith is drowning in the blood of martyrs, of fallen ‘soldiers’ who have been killed both literally and metaphorically in order to keep the faith “pure” and “holy” and “clean” and sustainable. Some of this blood has been shed in support of venal popes and kings, in support of racism, sexism, ageism and slavery, in the name of God, or at least some version of God deemed ‘right’ and ‘true’…And, yet, 2000 years plus have passed and the church continues to be embedded in both a theology of retribution, punishment, vengeance, excommunication, and a definition of humans (incarnated differently for men and women) as primarily sinful, in need of redemption and desperate for love.

It is a sad yet clear observation that the mercy, the forgiveness and the healing that each human being needs, requires and is promised by a redeeming faith, seems so far from the internal deliberations, academic theses, seminary classes, and organizational visioning and execution inside the church itself. Of course, matters of faith are represented as “things beyond” the now and the literal, and thereby contingent upon the imagination, creativity and courage and strength of those practitioners, thought leaders, ‘high priests’ and leading clergy and laity. Nevertheless, if a belief in God has any impact on the lives of disciples, surely it could and would generate serious consideration, on the individual’s part, of how to contribute to the “kingdom’s” impact in the here and now, as a complement to the hereafter.

Within families, neighbourhoods, schools, colleges, universities, corporations, the exercise of power, whether by men or women in authority, has to be tempered by the vulnerability, the conscious acknowledgement of the impact of one’s full consciousness, including the emotions, the thoughts, the empathy, the full investigation of the cultural, psychological, historic, and even the anthropological petrie dish from which one’s thoughts, words, actions and beliefs emerge. The instant gratification of “justice” at the expense of the most full and complete assembling and digestion of the biographical information (not ever to be relegated to the professional psychologists, or to the psychiatrists, or to the social workers, all of whom have a limited (often by time and cost) agenda or perspective and too often make distorted and invalid conclusions and recommendations. Any recommendation for “justice” that does not vigorously integrate the relevant biographical information, (often unavailable from a frightened and insecure, and too often poor and impoverished witness) is and can be deligitimized, for the failure of the systems that generated it.

And the systems that we currently deploy need deep and profound scrutiny, not merely from a technological perspective, but from a theological, ethical, moral and compassionate, empathic perspective. Is it just possible, as it is imaginable, that the Christian church might find some spine, examine its definitions of human beings, including those of gender and biography, with a view to seeking restorative, sustainable and credible justice. It is not only the pursuit of lower recidivism rates that warrant such an approach. The way we see each other, from the get-go, is integral to a new way of being on the planet. This “shared” perception of who we are, as individuals and as social beings, not wanting ever to displease, nor ever to dishonour, if given the corroborating and supporting grounding, could be a life-saver in both the eschatological and the literal twenty-first century senses of such life-saving.  

Friday, November 15, 2019

#24 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (KE #f)

Trinity College, the locus of training and development of clergy for the Anglican church, immediately across the street from its sister college, Wycliffe, offers a far different perspective, activities and culture from the one across that street. The two colleges offer a parallel “process” to the divide at Huron between fundamental evangelical and literal interpretation of scripture and a primary purpose of converting new members to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ (Wycliffe), and a more reserved, I contend, thoughtful, more open and ambiguous reading of scripture, and a very different “process” (praxis in seminary terms) of exegesis, hermeneutics and contending with the difficult questions arising from even considering and then approaching the awesome question: “How to find, relate to and emulate God” as a Christian?”(Trinity)

The former, championing numbers of converts and a passion for evangelizing bordering in some cases on hyper-salesmanship, echoed memories from the clergy in the pulpit in my youth. The latter similarly echoed memories of Rev. George W. Goth at Metropolitan United church in London and Rev. Dr. Andrew Lawson at Timothy Eaton Memorial in Toronto, both churches in which I had worshipped while an undergrad at Western back in the 1960’s. Thoughtful, provocative, penetrating, and engaging spiritual pilgrims both, Goth and Lawson represented an honourable, humane, creative and highly charged and stimulating example of what it means to be a Christian at least to this pre-adult, struggling with an undergraduate program needing to be free of the fear of recriminations from a mother under whose metaphoric sword I laboured, writhing to be unfettered.

However, back in the 1960’s I was clearly not anticipating, at least consciously, a pursuit of theology studies. It was not until following graduation from Ottawa U. with an M.Ed. in 1972 that I considered that prospect, only to be thwarted by my then spouse, who after seven years of marriage, declared unequivocally, “If you go into the ministry, I will divorce you!” Clearly based on a deep-seated boundary of a refusal to be a “clergy wife,” the statement, contextualized for me in a manner similar to my father’s, “good boys don’t leave their marriage,” as we sat on the back steps when I was fourteen and deeply disturbed by the antics of his spouse, my mother, silenced my declared aspiration, underpinned by acceptance at both Emanuel College and Knox College, on the day of that declaration.

Lest it be ignored or denied that conflict cannot erupt in a liberal theological seminary, Trinity was a cauldron of conflict throughout the time of my enrolment, 1989-91. From the outside, as a mere student, it appeared that something had occurred between the then Dean, Dr. Peter Slater, and a recently appointed professor, Dr. Marsha Hewitt, statements made to which such offence was taken that a Human Rights Tribunal hearing resulted in the dean’s retirement and the professor’s tenure. Feminism, a rising tide in church history, had already turned the institution’s public and political “eye” on the need to grow the number of female clergy and bishops, as well as faculty members, and seemed to have precipitated some backlash for which a serious price was paid in human lives. The Field Education faculty member was a woman, the clergy in the church to which I was assigned as an intern was a woman, and a professor in Ethics was the same Dr. Hewitt. My original supervisor at the Toronto Institute for Human Relations was also a woman. It is certainly not that any of these women warranted anything but exemplary reviews for their performance; and as students, we were quite conscious of the growing “political power” of women within the institution.

Nevertheless, on reflection, these nearly three decades later, there was a stridency in many of their individual approaches, attitudes and interactions. Perhaps it is legitimate to argue that, as the first wave of a tidal wave of rising political power among women, inside and outside the church, these women believed that only through a determined stridency, even officiousness and hauteur would they break through the wall of the centuries-long patriarchy. Pride, linked with a seething cauldron of anger, suspicion and determination to “break” the hierarchy of male dominance was not a “dynamic” or a thrust to which those in power were either trained or accustomed to adjust to, accommodate or even to negotiate with.

In fact, the obvious conflictual currents that surfaced within the Trinity community, as well as throughout the Toronto School of Theology, the federation of theological schools of all Christian denominations at the University of Toronto, could have, and even should have offered the glaring, and tragically missed,  opportunity for Trinity faculty and administration to design and conduct seminars in gender conflict resolution. It is not as if there have not been centuries of evidence of various kinds of social, theological, political and fiscal conflict within the institution of the Anglican church in Canada and worldwide. These historic chapters did not, and may well not even yet, have prompted deliberate curricular requirements in conflict resolution.
This tragic omission of curricular design has failed graduates of Trinity for decades. More importantly, the tragic blindness, denial and oversight of “troubling” or “dark” or conflict-seeded incidents inside the church is among its most serious theological, spiritual, ethical and moral failures. Whether such “sins of omission” (as the Prayer Book words) apply to other denominations is outside the purview of this piece.

However, the failure to address the learning, preparatory and developmental process of preparing postulants for what the church terms “holy orders” by formally and informally addressing the potential for conflict that exists within each and every single parish, mission, cathedral and diocese is a failure that speaks to a broader issue: the notion that the institution is apparently deemed either incapable or unwilling to successfully confront conflict in the open. Left to the privacy of the responsible hierarch’s office (Dean, Canon, Archbishop, Bishop, Primate), as if all conflicts were a matter of “personnel confidentiality” and therefore legally and ethically and morally cordoned off from open discussion, debate, and even canonical court deliberation, this perspective neglects what can easily be seen to be “organizational” issues beneath and beyond the private personal interactions between clergy and faculty, or between clergy and laity or even between clergy and clergy.

The very fact that the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal was asked to rule, and not the faculty association, or some deliberately determined and assigned conflict-resolution tribunal inside the college, seems indicative of either the failure of the college or it’s resistance to resolving the conflict through the available professional, intellectual and the ethical competencies inside the college. Of course, another of the ambiguous relationships that generates tension, and sometimes conflict, is that between the college(s) and the diocese, in this case of Toronto. Resorting to the legal profession, as if it were the epitome of conflict- resolution processes, insights, training and professional competencies is another of the many withdrawals for which the church must accept responsibility, given ‘her’ failure to engage in the public square as a force incarnating the gospel of the New Testament.

 There is a saying in Matthew 22:21, attributed to Jesus that reads:
Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s…

Also, in response to Pontius Pilate, Jesus is reported to have uttered these words, (John  18:36): My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews…

Clearly, veering far away from recommending or engaging in conflict between the church and the state, these utterances have provided foundational support for the political and ostensibly ethical and legal formulation that has become the fulcrum of many of the public debates in the west in contemporary political culture.

From the perspective of a twenty-first-century septuagenarian, this “divide” is, in a word, unsustainable, either in the ideal or in the fact. We live lives that flow, sometimes gently and sometimes turbulently in the energy of the lives of others, themselves, also navigating within the flowing now of each moment. That moment, in the fullness of its meaning and definition, can never be stripped of any of either its spiritual or its political implications, ramifications, foundations and reverberations. As a singular body/mind/spirit in the vortex of winds of thought, history, theology, ethics and relationships, we all face decisions that demand the totality of our comprehension, beliefs, attitudes and ethical mandates. The question of the influence of any contemporary or previously extant cultural practices, attitudes, beliefs and rituals and their relevant impact on the “church” whether at the parish, college, diocese or national level has bedevilled theologians and especially ecclesial hierarchies for centuries.

Ranging from the seemingly abhorrent disdain for the indigenous culture, beliefs, practices and rituals of First Nations families and communities (considered savages) exhibited by “Christian missionaries” who vehemently worked to “convert” to Christianity those families and their children to the corporate sycophancy of contemporary church leaders with the affluent in each and every parish, the church’s hands are drowning in the blood of guilt of having abused both indigenous cultures and the contemporary underclass of the poor, the dispossessed and the “unfit” as seen by both the culture and the church. In the former instance, this abuse was obviously overt, conscious, contemplated and deliberate while in the latter instance, it can be argued that it was more unconscious, less contemplated and less obviously deliberate.

The rationalization of this latter characterization, however, is open to legitimate and vociferous dispute. Dependency on those fat cheques, and the complicity with the attitudes, values, perceptions and beliefs of those affluent, whose names adorn many of the legacies in many of the sanctuaries, is, however, not an excuse for the willful succumbing of the hierarchical, military, corporate and superior “class” attitudes, perceptions and beliefs that come, often invisibly, glued to those cheques. This distinguishing between the rich and the poor as “influencers” on specifically Anglican ecclesial culture, whether practiced in the colleges and seminaries, the parishes and missions, or the cathedrals and church offices, is not a mere distinction without a difference. In fact, it is emblematic of a way of doing business: that way embraces and even enforces a degree of political correctness that substitutes spiritual discipline with perfectionism. And perfectionism, as a political modus operandi, simply will not tolerate “mess” or “conflict” or ambiguity or a process that seeks the truth, from all participants regardless of their perspective.

It was in a conversation with the than bishop, now deceased, midway in my first year at seminary, that I heard these words: “You know, John, people just cannot stand too much reality!” Whether borrowed from T.S. Eliot or not is mute; what is not mute or insignificant is the potential for spiritual demise, certainly individually and even corporately, of the application of such a perspective to the processes, both theoretical and processes of the Christian church. If the church is to be an attempt to incarnate the spirit and the letter of the words and mentorship of Jesus Christ Resurrected, as this naïve, idealistic and somewhat irascible then postulant, and later ordained, and later resigned individual seeking to find God in my life, and thereby to “live a life more abundantly” as a Christian conceptualized, then the pursuit of even the most difficult truths, realities, complexities, whether they be of a light or dark nature are the sine qua non of any discipleship.

The historic factum of academic study, based exclusively on empirical, verifiable data, and the “scientific research methodology” for the formulation of theses, in preparation for their defence, which has inevitably mutated into the seminaries, seems to have awarded much less “heft” than those processes of the intuition, the imagination and the creative spirit on which any search for God has to be based at least in part. Seeking the truth, even and especially in the most difficult circumstances, conflicts, disputes and rivalries, cannot be relegated to the “superior mental faculties” nor the superior spiritual insight of the bishops, archbishops and primates. This ecclesial institution is not an army, complete with court martial procedures and directives; nor is it an emergency room, based on an historical encyclopedia of case notes; nor is it a legal courtroom, operated on the premise of a wise judge, and the relevant case law from the archives. It is also not a tax accountant’s process of tabulating profit and loss, benefits and costs, in some mathematical or algebraic, or algorithmic pattern. It is also not a dentist’s laboratory, where the practitioner is schooled in searching for and finding a cavity, or a root canal, or a broken tooth all of them needing immediate intervention and repair.

How decisions are arrived at, both by individuals and by group processes is at least as important and relevant to the outcome as is the culture on which those decisions and processes are based. Deliberately, or less caustically inadvertently, segregating the church’s anatomy, physiology, history, culture, psychology and politics, and environment off from the daily activities, and their implications on the lives of those seeking God inside the parameters of the institution seems to result in a reductionism that prevails in most of our contemporary conflict: the empirical facts of the moment of the incident, the objective presentation of those fact, by competing parties/interests and the rulings by a group of peers or by an agreed selected individual. Quickly and summarily are analogies, comparisons, cultural and contextual influences are deemed outside the purview of the investigation, and certainly of the formal deliberations.

To succumb to the “state” (or Caesar, or civil or legal or political) definitions of the place of the church within the culture is a serious default, potentially in favour of avoiding conflict with the public square generally, a default to which the church need not default. Nor is the church mandated to default. The Roman church, conversely, has adopted such a high profile in the public square over the issue of abortion/a woman’s right of choice, advocating for Right to Life aphorisms, while obviously remaining silent and absent on the issue of privatizing of prisons, or of the enlistment of capital punishment. However, as an institutional entity that has traditionally and persistently sought and found the middle way, the moderating path, between two competing and conflicting forces, the Anglican/Episcopal church, worldwide, has a canyon of opportunities, within its walls and by extension beyond, to incarnate and thereby illustrate and demonstrate its reconciling learnings and experience.

And one of the significant and continuous public “files” on which the church has defaulted, seemingly by refusing to face the obligations inherent to the male leadership for both the insurgent feminism and for the potential for future male clergy. Vacillating on the waves of the energy within the public square, from patriarchy to insurgent and inevitable strident feminism, without a formal discussion of the implications on the individuals in the pews, and on the ways in which the organization operates, without owning a specific masculine and honourable and worthy perspective, the male hierarchy simply went awol.

The example at Trinity is only one such example. There are many others, for example, the misandrist female clergy who have dismissed or refused to incorporate male acolytes, or interns, or even associates, in a culture in which such “abuse” is passed over by congregations steeped in and marinated in a jar of Anglican culture. The complicity of misandrist female clergy with their female peers if and when a complaint is unearthed, regardless of the veracity of the complaint the context of the complaint, and the sources and veracity of those sources.

And this spineless deferral by the male patriarchy to the insurgent feminist tide, whether conscious or unconscious, deliberate or inadvertent, is one of many avoidances, denials and failures to face the rigorous demands of real lives lived in real time, under the roof of the Christian ecclesial sanctuary.