Tuesday, October 16, 2007

I start to understand Charles Williams

Over on StandFirm, Craig Goodrich posted an interesting excerpt from a 2006 essay that studies the roots of the problems now consuming the Episcopal Church. And when you consider that it was written before GC2006 and all the ugly lawsuits and brutalist tactics that followed directly on Mrs. Schori's rise to power, it "shows some greatness of mind", as Mr. Bennet said. This was the part that resonated the most with me:
Although Episcopal seminary enrollments are at an all-time high, those numbers increasingly have seen a shift upwards in median age, as more and more Episcopal seminarians come to the priesthood from other careers. This is usually lauded as a positive development ("See, we're developing a more mature, more intentional pool of candidates....") but it frequently disguises the fact that many of the second-career seminarians are rolling off first careers which were flops.

(This should be a warning that someone may be looking for a short-cut to status or prestige that eluded them in the secular world, rather than seeking how to become a servant of Christ). The result is that many second-careerists enter the priesthood for the wrong reasons, and at the wrong age, when they will not be able to acquire sufficient years of parish service to deepen their understanding of what pastoral administration is all about.

Let them become bishops, and they will fall back on the reflexes of their first careers, and a great deal of what we have seen in the way of inhibitions and canonical proceedings reflects exactly that - the response, either of irritated bureaucrats for whom my-way-or-the-highway is the operating principle, or (worse) of inexperienced bureaucrats who are afraid to be seen as weak in front of the long-service office-holders in diocesan headquarters.

These decent souls become bishops because the episcopal vetting process tends not toward selecting the best or brightest, but the corporate-minded. In a process similar to that which has seen colleges and universities turn increasingly to career fundraisers and administrators for presidents, rather than scholars or intellectuals, episcopal search committees tend to attract as members people whose lives are bounded by corporate life; they, in turn, tend to recognize their own kind as the most comfortable choice for a bishopric.

But a bishop does not preside over an organization; he serves a life, and along with that life come complications which do not usually afflict organizations. A CEO is not usually called upon to deal with middle-managers whose objections to the CEO's strategic plan are based on the word of God; but bishops whose chief recommendation for the office has been simple decency or a knack for facilitating committees will not be a bishop for long before situations of intractable theological conflict appear in the room, and at that point, all the virtues which made them attractive candidates to the search committee will turn out to be useless.

In that event, the CEO-type response will be, first, mystification, then embarrassment, and finally irritated backlash. I have known more than enough truculent clergy over the years who have begged for, and deserved, a good episcopal backlash or two; but in today's climate, the backlash tends to corporate and political, not theological.

So, while the decks of the Episcopal Church cant ever more steeply toward capsizing, its episcopate is puzzled why campaigns of salesmanship and openness do so little to stop the flooding. Instead, they find themselves beleagured by dissent and litigation, two ugly realities for which both seminary education and the episcopal selection process have left them unprepared.
It's not so much the older, second-career aspect of many of today's priests and bishops that bothers me, it's the "corporate" style of so many of them. I remember being bothered by this way back in the 80s, whenever I read of a priest or bishop being touted for his "management" gifts. It seemed to be the latest thing; bishops as CEO-type managers. And it worked so well in the business world, with the Reagan Revolution and all, why wouldn't it be a good idea to have someone astute and efficient in charge of a diocese? Only to my romantic mind, it seemed flat and disappointing. I wanted a bishop to be a hero - someone who could be a martyr or a saint if it happened to fall to his lot. Someone who'd lead the way for the rest of us to do high and noble things. A "manager" just wasn't my idea of the job at all - it was like making a highschool principal Commander-in-Chief of a regiment.

Over the years, these managerial types have not turned out to be the great success everyone thought they would be. I suspect there was just a failure of imagination at work somewhere among all the appointment committees. My idea of a bishop was unrealistic, but so was theirs. As this essay points out, "But a bishop does not preside over an organization; he serves a life, and along with that life come complications which do not usually afflict organizations." The people who wanted managers and CEOs couldn't have had an accurate idea of what the Church really is, or they couldn't have so misjudged the qualifications for those required to lead it.

The whole idea of "managing" seems to me quite alien to how Christians ought to deal with each other. I have finally begun to understand a passage from Charles Williams's "Descent Into Hell" which I always knew was important, but never could properly relate to the larger idea of the life of the soul as we pass through this world on our way to the next. I'll quote it all, because now that I've seen the Church fall into the same trap as the character of Adela in the book, I think I understand what Williams might have been thinking. I guess I had to see it written out in big, giant letters in real life - in fact, the same crisis and decision happens to every individual soul:
Adela found herself pushed away. There had been between them an amount of half-pretended mastery and compulsion, but she was conscious of a new sound in Hugh's voice. It struck so near her that she forgot about Pauline and the heat and Stanhope, for she knew that she would have to make up her mind about it, whether to reject or allow that authoritative assumption. Serious commands were a new thing in their experience. Her immediate instinct was to evade: the phrase which sprang to her mind was, "I shall have to manage him--I can manage him." If she were going to marry Hugh--and she supposed she was--she would either have to acquiesce or pretend to acquiesce. She saw quite clearly what she would do; she would assent, but she would see to it that chance never assented. She knew that she would not revolt; she would never admit that there was any power against which Adela Hunt could possibly be in a state of revolt. She had never admitted it of Mrs. Parry. It was always the other people who were in revolt against her. Athanasian in spirit, she knew she was right and the world wrong. Unathanasian in method, she intended to manage the world...Stanhope, Mrs. Parry, Hugh. She would neither revolt nor obey nor compromise; she would deceive. Her admission to the citizenship of Gomorrah depended on the moment at which, of those four only possible alternatives for the human soul, she refused to know which she had chosen. "Tell me it's for yourself, only yourself...." No, no, it's not for myself; it's for the good of others, her good, his good, everybody's good: is it my fault if they don't see it? manage them, manage them, manage her, manage him, and them. O, the Princess managing the Woodcutter's Son, and the Chorus, the chorus of leaves, this way, that way; minds twiddling them the right way; treachery better than truth, for treachery was the only truth, there was no truth to be treacherous to--and the last act beginning, and she in it, and the heat crackling in the ground, in her head, in the air.
Wasn't that what the Archbishop of Jerusalem asked the HOB to do in New Orleans? "Admit this is what you want. Tell me it's for yourself, only for yourself, because this is what you want." "No, no, it's not for ourselves, it's for you, it's for them, it's for others, it's for Justice, it's for the Future, it's for the Past - it's for everyone and everything except for us."


Blogger The Bovina Bloviator said...

"No, no, it's not for ourselves, it's for you, it's for them, it's for others, it's for Justice, it's for the Future, it's for the Past - it's for everyone and everything except for us."

Yet if any of those corporate bishops were put put on the rack and ordered to recant their heresies, they would do it before the first twist of the wheel and justify it with, "No, no, it's not for ourselves, it's for you, it's for them, it's for others, it's for Justice, it's for the Future, it's for the Past - it's for everyone and everything except for us."

12:36 am  

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