Saturday, December 31, 2016

Today is the last day of the year. I say goodbye and good riddance to the year 2016. Surely, 2017 will be better.
As I look around at the world, the nation, and the church, I feel a sense of unease today. All is not well. I see lamentable division, hostility, and pain all about.
In the world, I grieve for the man-made death and destruction in too many places, most notably in Syria, one of the oldest civilized spaces on earth. Countless hundreds of thousands of helpless civilians have been brutally slaughtered as five million terrified people have fled in desperation from their homeland. Who of us can watch them on television without wanting to help? One of the great old cities of the Middle East, Aleppo, lies in utter ruin. None of this had to happen.
In the nation, I grieve for the deep social divisions that showed themselves in the recent, ugly political campaigns. A person woefully unqualified and unfit to the president won the office thanks to our anachronistic system of the Electoral College (although he lost big time in the popular vote). He did so by very skillfully bringing out the worst in human nature: fear, anger, hatred, resentment, jealousy, even violence. The result is that the nation is torn apart as it has not been in years. This is a dangerous moment in American history. This did not have to happen either.
In the church, I grieve for the ongoing divisions in the grand old diocese of South Carolina. Dissolving into four parts between 2004 and 2012, the two largest parts made legal warfare for the property. Millions have been spent on lawyers yet we are no closer to resolution than we were a year ago. Both federal and state courts are reluctant to tackle the obviously very difficult issues involved. The destruction of the old diocese was another thing that did not have to happen.
What next for the new year? In the world, no one can predict how the geo-political dynamics will change. Trump is enamored of Putin and seems poised to alter radically American foreign policy. No doubt the Middle East will continue to boil in murderous violence as fanatical religious fundamentalists abound.
Likewise, one cannot predict what will happen in the nation. We will have a president who has never held office, never served in the military, and is driven by childish egomania. The other political pole will be the Republican congressional leadership. Trump was a demagogue who had no consistent inner convictions. He had no clear agenda. The Republican leaders definitely have an agenda. We can expect rollbacks of all sorts of progressive initiatives and sweeping economic changes to transfer more wealth to already wealthy individuals and corporations. "Trickle down" is the age-old Republican agenda. Trump is unlikely to know how to resist this, even if he wanted. If his cabinet picks are any indication, we can expect massive reversals of progressive programs all over the place. This will be the Anti-New-Deal.
In the church, there will be more of the old waiting game. Everything is on hold until the SC Supreme Court issues its written decision(s). It is possible we could go through another year waiting. The court has been known to take well over two years on cases simpler than the church's. Even after we get a decision, we can expect appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court which, sooner or later, will have to resolve the fundamental issue at stake of the relationship between the Episcopal Church and her dioceses.
The majority faction of the old diocese, now the independent Diocese of South Carolina, is obviously not doing well. It has lost considerably in membership as it keeps wringing from its faithful money to pay lawyers in its ill-conceived scheme of schism. After four years of independence, it has become clear that this was a bad idea. Contrary to the Trinity Gang's assertions, the diocese is not the Episcopal Church in the Low Country and is not in the Anglican Communion. Moreover, it has no prospect of ever being in the Communion. Its "friends" in GAFCON and Global South abandoned the replacement stratagem they had concocted in 2009. That was the plan to have the new Anglican Church in North America replace the Episcopal Church as the legitimate Anglican province in America.  In 2016, GAFCON/Global South abandoned the idea of getting ACNA into the Anglican Communion. The ill-conceived scheme of the anti-homosexual "Anglican Realignment" is dying away in failure. Meanwhile the Diocese of South Carolina is left out in the cold.
There are signs of discontent in the majority Diocese these days. Perhaps some of the good church people are realizing that they were misled. The promises of being "Anglicans" in the Anglican Realignment have fallen flat. However, it will not be easy for the parishes to get out from under the control of the misguided diocesan leadership. At the time of the schism, the leadership leaned on the parish leaders to sign a written "Commitment" to stay with the Diocese. Also, they tied in the parishes as parties in the lawsuit, the only one of the five diocesan secessionist cases to do this. As the parish leaders see how they have been misused, they will have difficulty getting out of the tight bonds the diocese has forced on them.
I do not mean to sound too gloomy because in reality, I am an optimist. I am a historian and a Christian. In my many decades of studying history, I have come to believe that history is the working out of the reconciliation of God and humankind. This is the definition of progress. However, this process moves fitfully with deep troughs interspersed. It is far from being a smooth glide upwards. There are two parties at work here; and on the human side, men and women were created in the image of God to promote and enhance His creation. Yet, since humans have Free Will, they can choose to do good or evil, sometimes in great measures (I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the French Revolution). Thus, a great deal rests on the free choices that human beings make.
I have found strange comfort of late in revisiting the 1930's and 1940's. These decades were arguably the worst time in modern history: Great Depression, Nazism, Fascism, Communism, militarism, and the Second World War. All of this brought unprecedented, and near cataclysmic, misery, death, and destruction. Yet, mankind survived, and not only survived, went on to thrive. The second half of the Twentieth Century saw the Great Democratic Revolution of freedom, justice, and equality. If the people of the 30's and 40's made it through, we can too. My most recent read was Erik Larson, In the Garden of Beasts. I highly recommend it (a history professor becomes US ambassador to Nazi Germany).
On a personal note I look back on 2016 with some satisfaction. This blog continues to be surprisingly popular. Since I started it 3 years and 3 months ago, it has had 166,000 "hits." About half of those came in 2016. I hope that I have contributed some to a better understanding of the unfortunate schism in South Carolina (the ongoing unpleasantness). I have finished writing my history of the schism. Originally over 600 book-sized pages, I pared it down to about 500. At present I am cleaning up the footnotes, nearly 2,000 of them, and the bibliography. I hope to get it published asap and into peoples' hands. I think readers will find it informative and interesting.

Unfortunately, my botanical garden do not fare so well. A five-month drought devastated it. It too is "pared down," much to my dismay. Dozens of beautiful shrubs and trees, accustomed to the wet and humid South, did not survive the "desert" of 2016 and will have to be undertaken before spring. Others were wounded. I doubt that my garden will ever be as beautiful as it was before then.
Thank you readers for your encouragement and your emails. Keep them coming, even the critical ones. I wish you and yours a good new year.
And so, I look forward to 2017 with faith, optimism, and the confidence that the better angels of our nature will prevail. We are here to do God's work; and we should get on with it.