Monday, September 25, 2006

If the trumpet give an uncertain sound

I read the Camp Allen statement, and the dismayed reactions of Matt Kennedy and Chris Johnson and many others. Then came the clarification in an interview with Bishop Iker. I read that, then I went back and read the original statement again. And while others find more to hope for the longer they parse these statements, I feel more dissatisfied than ever. I'm starting to feel about these Windsor Bishops the way Charles II felt about Prince George of Denmark: "I've tried him drunk and I've tried him sober, and there is nothing in him."

Well before Bishop Iker gave his clarifying interview, the blogs were buzzing with arguments over whether this was a weak sell-out or a canny manoeuvre. Those who thought the latter were busily hunting through the entrails of the CA statement for favourable auguries. Many found refuge in the "audience" to which it was directed - other bishops. Bishops don't speak the same language as the rest of us, apparently; in their world, it is the height of daring to express oneself in language as prolix ("We understand ourselves to be catholic bishops within the Anglican Communion..." - what's wrong with "We are"? Why use 5 words when you can use 2? And everyone already knows that they're bishops - they kindly announced it in the preceding sentence) as it is timid (oh, just pick any phrase at random: "We recognize that many congregations within The Episcopal Church need a safe space within which to live out the integrity of their faith in compliance with the Windsor Report." That's not aiming particularly high, as far as lifetime ambitions go.) I know the King James Version of the Bible was produced by committee, but it's bad strategy to count on getting a miracle twice in the same place; THIS is more typical of what you get when a bunch of Anglicans have to produce a statement. There's even a touch of inadvertent humour in the statement that they intend "to offer a faithful and dynamic witness" - "dynamism" is about the last thing that I expect to see emanating from this source.

It isn't just the bad writing, though I have found that Orwell's statement, "The great enemy of clear language is insincerity" (Politics and the English Language) is seldom wrong. The depressing thing is that the bishops involved don't seem to see anything wrong with playing these silly word games. Bishop Iker is an honourable man, but in his interview he doesn't seem to realize that "an opportunity for some bishops to stand up and be counted as Windsor bishops" and getting "(t)wenty-one bishops who occupy a wide variety of positions on the questions before us, [to agree] to four plainly-stated points" just isn't that big a deal anymore. Where is the big picture?

The Americans look even shabbier when made to stand next to the Global South primates. Read their statement. It's perfectly understandable. No need for specialists to explain that this is couched in some unusual "Global South"-speak, and an interpreter will be along shortly to tell us what it all means. Everyone knows what this means - we can read it for ourselves. It is full of active verbs and straightforward sentences - the words of men who know what they think and are used to doing things.

"For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who will prepare himself to the battle?"

In a battle, a commander stands up high and looks over the entire field. The Windsor Bishops are still stubbornly looking at the ground immediately in front of their feet, not at the big field. They are General George McClellan, forever pleading for more time, more men, more supplies, more of everything, in preparation for the perfect moment that never comes. The conservatives wanted a General Sherman or a Grant or a Lee - not because they want lots of death and destruction, but because they want to GET somewhere. They want to be led OUT of the Wilderness, not sit around in it polishing their excuses and admiring the decorum of it all.


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