Saturday, May 29, 2010

Authors and Bishops and Activists, Oh My!

Last Sunday, which we now call Pentecost but which I still think of as Whitsunday, I was struck by the fact that sitting near the front of St. Mary's at the 10 am service were four "old men." My claim to fame is that I am the senior (in terms of time I have been there) male member of St. Mary's. The other three have come to St. Mary's much more recently, but they are each scholars and published authors. Thomas Cahill is an occasional visitor but not a member. Joel Kovel and Arthur Cash are regular attendees and are at least informally members. But even though we had four men visibly sitting toward the front on Sunday, St. Mary's these days is energized by a group of women, mostly somewhat younger, who are providing strong and dynamic lay leadership.

Tuesday morning Liz and I attended a service in a different venue and with a different cast of characters. It was a Service of Rededication on the Occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the Interchurch Center. We were there for two reasons -- we heard about it because Liz currently sings in the Intechurch Center Chorus, and after we heard about it Liz recalled that she had been at the dedication fifty years ago when she had a clerical job at the Interchurch Center and had joined the choir there. This time there was no choir, but an organ, a brass quartet, and a bagpiper. A guest of honor was Steven Rockefeller, whose family, especially his grandfather, provided the land on which the Interchurch Center is built. The address was given by Michael Kinnamon, the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ. Fr. Raymond Rafferty, the current pastor of Corpus Christi Church, which we can see from the windows of our apartment, was among several readers; he read a passage from Matthew 5. Just before the service began I noticed in the program the name "The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori." Bishop Katharine came in at the end of the procession, behind Father Rafferty and Michael Kinnamon, whether the placemen was liturgically conscious or not, I don't know, but it was appropriate because she was the ranking cleric there. Bishop Katharine read the Litany of Remembrance and Dedication. Liz and I made a point of speaking to Bishop Katharine after the service, before she ducked out the back door on to Riverside Drive. I have now had an opportunity to speak to Bishop Katharine at three functions here on Morningside Heights and also once when she and her husband showed up unannounced at St. Mary's.

Three days after the Rededication of the Interchurch Center, and having nothing at all to do with it, the Archbishop of Canterbury issued a "Pentecost letter to the Bishops, Clergy and Faithful of the Anglican Communion." Others have written at length of the more significant portions of this letter -- in which Archbishop Rowan reveals more than ever his retrograde authoritarian ecclesiology and his inability to see that his statements amount to saying the lesbian and gay persons, "I have no need of you." My initial reaction to his letter, and especially the press release accompanying it, was "Ho, hum." There was nothing new.

Last Sunday afternoon, Liz and I hosted a gathering of people, mostly from St. Mary's, who are concerned about peace in Israel and Palestine. We heard from one of the witnesses to the killing of Rachel Corrie in Rafah, Gaza, on March 16, 2003. We also heard a report on current conditions in Rafah. The question of Israel and Palestine is a difficult one. It is difficult for many people to understand that a person can be simultaneously for the Israeli people and for the Palestinian people; or that being against the policies of the government of Israel is not a form of anti-Semitism.

My 10th great grandmother, Anne Marbury Hutchinson, is said to have been opposed to the wars against native Americans in the 1630's that resulted in the near extermination of the Pequots and the enslavement of the survivors. It is ironic that some of her descendants grew rich in the triangular slave trade and that she herself was killed by native Americans in 1643.

Monday, May 24, 2010


Some people in Anglican land, and, I presume, elsewhere, are writing, and maybe talking, and certainly blogging, about something on TV called Lost, which I gather just came to an end.

As for me, I just started reading Tristram Shandy again for the first time in over fifty years.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Busy and Wow

A lot has been happening. I'm writing this as an update without links just to get it down.

We had the organizational meeting of the board of directors here at Morningside Gardens on Tuesday. My support for Glenn and other Big-endians caused a lot of consternation. I myself was elected secretary, an office I have held before. I'll be writing more about Morningside Gardens and about conflict in the coming days and weeks.

Liz just finished attending her 55th high school reunion, and from Thursday afternoon to Saturday afternoon we had one of her classmates, another Liz, as a house guest.

I don't think I mentioned that on Palm Sunday as we processed around the block I talked with Arthur Cash, a retired English professor, about my project to publish my master's essay on The Dunciad on the web. Arthur encouraged me and I have been itching to get back to that project. In order to do it properly, I need to read a doctoral dissertation on the Dunciad that predates the completion of my essay but that I somehow missed in 1982 when I did a literature search. On Friday, while Liz and Liz were at their reunion I went down to the 42nd street library -- the one with the lions -- and obtained permission to use the Berg Collection, where a copy of the dissertation is deposited. I had about a half hour to look at the dissertation and I now know both that I do indeed have to read it and that it complements my own work -- or the other way around. I'll be writing more about that in the coming weeks and months.

On Thursday we had the first meeting of the St. Mary's finance committee since I was elected treasurer. I still haven't had time to process what we discussed at that meeting. I got home from that meeting and had about 20 minutes to eat supper before I went to another meeting here at Morningside Gardens at which we discussed the financing of capital projects. Amazingly, a committee composed of Big-endians and Little-endians came up with a unanimous recommendation to the board.

There's more, but that's enough for now.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

I am not a Big-endian

Last night i voted to elect Glenn president of my coop, Morningside Gardens. It's safe -- and not at all boastful -- to say that last night I was the decider, so Glenn was elected. I was elected secretary, an office I have held before. The rest of the officers are Big-endians.

I am not a Big-endian. If anyone was watching, I demonstrated that in the very first vote of the evening. I also may have demonstrated it in the last vote of the evening -- I'm not saying.

As I have said before, the chief hallmark of the Little-endians may well be mistrust of the Big-endians and the chief hallmark o the Big-endians may well be mistrust of the Little-endians. There are also people who are not otherwise Little-endians who mistrust the Big-endians and people who are not otherwise Big-endians who mistrust the Little-endians. The mistrust that some of the Little-endians have for the Big-endians leads some of them to predict dire consequences as a result of the new set of officers. Even if control of the board were vested in the officers, I don't believe there would be dire consequences, but since control of the board is not vested in the officers, we'll never know. When it comes to decision making, all board members are equal and none are more equal than others.

To state it more explicitly, even if the five Big-endians all vote the same way on any question, I will vote independently. And if the Little-endians held all the offices, I would vote independently then too. So the outcome of any vote depends on the maekup of the board as a whole, not on who the officers are.

I voted for Glenn because I think he has a good chance of bringing us some way back down the spiral of conflict. It will be hard work, and I intend to support him in it.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Board Affairs

SECOND UPDATE Sunday afternoon. I have corrected the numbers reported for this year's election results. I had mistranscribed the actual vote for John. Hat-tip to Glenn.

UPDATE Sunday morning. In this post I use the terms Big-endians and Little-endians to describe two groups of board members. The names come from Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels and I discussed my choice of these names in What's New?, which I wrote two weeks ago. The names refer to eggs, specifically to the correct way to open a soft-boiled egg.

This past Tuesday we had our annual stockholders' meeting here at Morningside Gardens. We elected three board members to join eight continuing members for what is now an eleven person board.

This coming Tuesday the board will hold its organizational meeting. We will elect the officers for the coming year. Last year I wrote a series of posts about the election here at Morningside starting with What's Up?, written before last year's annual meeting. In that post I discuss what turned into my candidacy for president. Most of what I wrote in that post I stand by today -- but there have been some changes.

Last year we changed the bylaws so that now there are only eleven board members which is why we elected only three board members this year. In each of the next two years we will elect four members, and then again three years hence we will again elect three (unless, of course, we change the bylaws again.)

As I noted in Whew, last year I ran for president, lost, and was relieved. I was also a little bit hurt. I haven't written about that hurt and I have talked about it very little. And it wasn't the first time. In order to talk about it, I need to give background and I need to use names -- I'll use only the first names of the characters, perhaps with initials to distinguish people with the same name. Some of this background I have discussed before on this blog.

Shortly after I was elected to the board and to the presidency in 2004, I appointed an ad hoc committee to study our resale price (we are a voluntarily limited equity cooperative -- that story is too long to include here.) To be chair of the committee, I appointed Tova, who I knew was in favor of open market, but who I believed to be fair. As it turned out, her idea of fairness and mine don't quite coincide -- and together we mismanaged a contentious situation and left scars on the community that persist.

The ad hoc committee came up with a plan to increase our maximum resale price and our flip taxes. While a large number of cooperators supported the plan, a significant group favored either a smaller increase in the resale price or no increase at all. As president, I was disappointed that the ad hoc committee did not engage in meaningful dialogue with those who favored a lower price. Instead many on each side vilified those on the other side. I too was vilified when I publicly stated that I saw flaws in both plans. When it came to the vote, the ad hoc committee's plan was overwhelmingly passed by the stockholders in March 2006. At the annual meeting which followed, Tova, Barbara, Steve and Jerry were elected. Tova, Barbara, and Steve were all vocal advocates of the increased prices, what I call the Big-endians. Members of that party showed open contempt for the advocates of lower prices, what I call the Little-endians. They also showed contempt for me and I was unceremoniously unseated by Tova. They didn't quite have a clean sweep -- I was elected Secretary, so I remained an officer although I was effectively frozen out of real participation in important discussions.

Two important things happened in that first year of Tova's presidency -- we hired a new general manager and there was a stockholder petition to study going to open market which passed at the 2007 annual meeting. I did not run for reelection that year for two reasons -- I didn't like being on the outside after having been on the inside, and I was having to spend a lot of time looking after my motther's affairs as she was declining.

In 2007, Dan and Patrick were elected to the board, Chi returned to the board after a year off, and Theresa was elected to a second term. During that year, I served on the bylaws committee, and later I chaired another resale price committee as we tried to hammer out a viable proposal for going to open market. I understand that the board meetings were quite contentious, although I was present as an observer at only a few of them. It was after a bylaws committee meeting that Barbara urged me to run for the board again, which I did. This time, in early 2008, the move to go to open market did not receive the vote of the requisite majority of all stockholders. A few weeks later Ann, Glenn, Marlo, and I were elected to the board. When I was running I explicitly said I was not running for president, but I was urged to run by the Little-endians, who were fed up with Tova's leadership. It became clear to me that we didn't have the votes to unseat Tova (see Trinity Eve), and the upshot was that Tova was reelected president, I was first vice president, Jerry was second vice president, Chi was treasurer, and Glenn was secretary. I was still out of the loop on a number of important discussions, and I was frozen out of the bylaws committee, which is one of my special interests, but I did become chair of our tenant selection committee.

There was a big struggle over the budget for 2009, and we voted a much smaller maintenance increase than I was comfortable with. Then in 2009, Tova left the board and Boyd, Chris and Detta were elected and Jerry was reelected to his second term. This time the Big-endians supported me for president and the Little-endians supported Jerry. I think the Bid-endians supported me because they were mistrustful of Jerry's leadership and the Little-endians were against me because they correctly perceived that I was not an orthodox Little-endian. We would have been deadlocked except that Theresa nominated and voted for Chi. Chi herself voted for Jerry. (I am speculating here, but I am sure I am correct.) So Jerry was elected president, Boyd was first vice-president, Theresa was second vice-president, Chi was treasurer and Anne was secretary. Dan and I were both elected to the executive committee, along with Anne and Boyd. It was an insult to me that I was not made an officer. Whether or not it was deliberate, it was an insult and I felt it.

In my opinion, Jerry made a number of mistakes as president in the last year. I was particularly dismayed that he scheduled information sessions during board meetings -- taking up time that might better be spent on important business. There were a number of other missteps -- times when I felt he could have handled things better. In addition, he has made a number of negative statements about Mike, the manager, that to this day are still in the realm of innuendo rather than concrete complaints on which the board could act.

I know that I am to some extent making assumptions about where people stand, but by and large I think I am correct in saying that during the past year the board had three Big-endians -- Detta, Glenn and Marlo; five Little-endians -- Anne, Boyd, Chi, Chris, and Pat; and four Independents -- Allen, Dan, Jerry and Theresa. Both the Big-endians and the Little-endians on the board include folks who are in active touch with people not on the board who share their general outlook.

At the end of this past board year, Pat chose not to run again and Theresa completed her sixth year and was not eligible to run again. Dan and Chi ran for reelection and there were four other candidates -- John and Larry who are generally identified with the Big-endians and Mimi and Tatyana who are generally identified with the Little-endians.

A couple of weeks before the election, Marlo went public with information that he felt cast doubt on Chi's suitablity to serve on the board. For me, Dan, and others, this was a serious breach because we considered that Marlo obtained some of the information only because he is a board member and hence the information is privileged. Dan introduced a motion at the next board meeting condemning Marlo's action. The motion passed, eight to three with one abstention. As I look back on it ten days later, I realize that the "whereas" clauses in the motion obscured what I think is the real issue -- that is, a breach of confidentiality and the use of confidential information for an apparently political purpose. That issue was conflated with at least two others -- whether the information released and Marlo's interpretation of it was accurate and whether Marlo had made a serious effort to present the information to the board for discussion before going public. The latter two issues played larger roles in community discussion than did the breach of confidentiality.

The outcome of the election was that John was the front runner, Larry trailed him by 43 votes, and Chi came in third, more than 150 votes behind John and more than 100 voted behind Larry. So now we have a board with five Big-endians, Detta, Glenn, John, Larry, and Marlo; four Little-endians, Anne, Boyd, Chi and Chris; and two independents, Allen and Jerry. (Again I want to emphasize that this is an over-simplification of people's positions, but it is pretty accurate as we go into the organizational meeting at which we will elect officers for the coming year.) The Little-endians are again putting Jerry forward for president and the Big-endians are putting Glenn forward. There are five on each side and at the moment I hold the deciding vote.

This is a good point to set forth my perceptions of the key characteristics of the Big-endians and the Little-endians when considered as parties. Since neither is a formal party, my perceptions are based on observation and are necessarily distorted by my own point of view.

One of the hallmarks of each group is a lack of trust of the other group -- indeed, lack of trust may be the chief hallmark of each group. There are elements in the outlook of each group that go back thirty years or more, but much of the current lack of trust can be traced to the lead up to the vote on prices in 2006. On substantive issues, I think it is fair to say that the Big-endians are concerned about our long term capital and operational needs and their costs, and the Little-endians focus on the short term costs to the cooperators of meeting those needs. That means that the Big-endians are likely to vote for a relatively higher maintenance increase in any given year than are the Little-endians. This is not to say that Big-endians are oblivious to the financial burdens that increased maintenance places on cooperators.

From my point of view, I think Chi, as treasurer, has for the past three years presided over a budget process and voted for budgets that have consistently under budgeted our needs and have produced operating deficits in each of those years. I think this is because, when it comes to budgeting, Chi, and some other Little-endians, are too myopic and unrealistic about actual costs which cannot be wished away or met through budget cutting and "cost control."

For the reasons I have stated, and for some additional reasons that I will not put in a blog post, I have decided that I will not support Jerry for president or Chi for treasurer. If not Jerry, then who? There are two obvious candidates: Glenn and me. I am very reluctant to try for president, although it is possible that I could be elected, especially if I bargained hard with ech side. But I really don't want the job. I'm willing to put in a lot of time, but not as much time as it takes to be an effective president.

That leaves Glenn, who, as I said before, is the candidate of the Big-endians. I am not a Big-endian. I do not share the deep suspicion many of them, especially those not on the board, have for people who disagree with them. I wince at the thought of the glee with which certain people will greet the election of Glenn as president and of anyone other than Chi as treasurer. But if I do not run myself, I have to make a choice between Jerry and Glenn, and since I have decided not to choose Jerry, I have to choose Glenn. I have talked to Glenn and I trust him to run a more open board than either Tova or Jerry did.

It's been a hard decision. I am somewhat surprised that I came out where I did. God willing, I won't regret my choice.

Monday, May 10, 2010


In my most recent post, I referred to the upcoming election of directors at Morningside gardens, the housing coop where I live, and to the existence of two parties, or factions, which I have somewhat facetiously dubbed the Big-endians and the Little-endians. Joking aside, there is genuine conflict here at Morningside, and it has reached an alarming point.

In January I did a post in which I mentioned reading an article by Canon C. K. Robertson in the December 2009 issue of Anglican and Episcopal History. I wrote:
Canon Robertson refers to the concept of "a spiral of unmanaged conflict" discussed by Susan Carpenter and William Kennedy in their 1988 book Managing Public Disputes. "Their premise," he writes, "is that any given divisive issue left unresolved will reappear again and again in slightly different guises, so that the passage of time, far from bringing healing, instead creates an ever-increasing intensity of opposition." I had never heard of the spiral of unmanaged conflict and was particularly struck by the idea, not for its applicability to the conflict in the Anglican Communion over sexuality but for its applicability to conflicts in the housing cooperative where I live and am a board member.
That was an incomplete post and I had intended to return to it earlier but here we are. In a footnote to that article, Canon Robertson refers to another of his articles -- this one appeared in the Fall 2007 issue of The Anglican Theological Review and is entitled "Courtroom Drama; A Pauline Alternative for Conflict Management." In that article, Canon Robertson lays out more fully his presentation of Carpenter and Kennedy's "model of the spiral of unmanaged conflict":
[T]heir underlying premise is that people in relationship with one another --- whether they are couples, groups, organizations, communities, or nations --- experience a relatively small number of issues that cause conflict, albeit in thousands of subtly distinct guises. Common themes manifest themselves at different points in the relationship in different ways and behind different masks. Thus, conflicting issue X, if left unresolved, will appear at a later point in the relationship but in a slightly different form, what we can call X2. If the parties involved again leave the issue unresolved and unmanaged, then later it will reappear in in still another appearance as X3, and so on. What is intriguing --- and disquieting --- is that with each new manifestation of the unresolved issue X over time, the intensity of anxiety, frustration, anger, and hostility that the parties bring to it increases dramatically. Carpenter and Kennedy elucidate this process in several steps:
X1 -- Presenting issue / problem arises
X2 -- Sides form along the lines of the issue (I am for issue X; you are against issue X)
X3 -- Positions harden (I see myself as pro-X; I see you as anti-X)
X4 -- Communication between parties breaks down; any meaningful dialogue between us ceases
X5 -- Resources are committed to the cause (I invest time, energy, even money in X)
X6 -- Conflict spills outside the parties (I talk to others about you, instead of to you)
X7 -- Perceptions of reality become distorted (I see you only as the Enemy, not as a person with whom I happen to disagree on issue X)
X8 -- A sense of crisis emerges, and the result can be litigation, dissolution, or war
It is not at all difficult to see how each stage in the spiral leads to the next. To reach the point of crisis where litigation appears inevitable, it is necessary for one or both parties to move relationally from fellowship to enmity. Disagreement alone cannot do this. Rather, it is the shifting of importance from a common bond between parties to agreement between parties that breaks down any sense of connectedness. Indeed, the relationship of those involved is viewed and subsequently re-determined in light of the presenting problem instead of the problem being viewed in the context of of the pre-existing relationship. Thus, any potential solutions that might work at a lower level of the spiral are useless at a higher lever. Indeed, any solutions grounded in the common relationship instead of common agreement will prove ineffectual altogether, as long as one party focuses on the existence and importance of disagreement.
I have quoted extensively from this article - I hope not too extensively - because I have not been able to locate a website that sets forth this model in any detail -- in fact the only links I have found are to pdfs of PowerPoint presentations (here and here) by Canon Robertson but without his accompanying explanations or comments.

To be continued,

Sunday, May 02, 2010

What's New?

This morning at St. Mary's, Bob Castle returned and (sort of) preached. It wasn't really a sermon, and it certainly wasn't based to the lections. Bob is engaging, entertaining, and maddening. Unlike the last time, when he spoke passionately about how right Jeremiah Wright is, this time was more of a reminiscence, with a little bit of fire thrown in for spice.

Enough of that.

This past week, our daughter Jane and son-in-law Scott took the first steps in adopting a baby sister for our granddaughter Amanda. Juliana is seven months old and Liz and I are trying to figure out how soon we can arrange to see her.

Last Tuesday, the Vestry elected me Treasurer and Bill Smith Assistant Treasurer. We're switching roles. I'm going to ease into the role of Treasurer, but I don't have much time -- I want to have a proper financial report for the vestry on day of the commemoration of the First Book of Common Prayer.

Here at Morningside Gardens, another election for the board is fast approaching. While we don't have named political parties here in the coop, we do have two groups who are at odds over a number of financial and other issues. I have struggled over what to call these two groups. One group is in power and one is not, so I could call them the Ins and the Outs. Many in one group support two men for the board and some in the other group support three women for the board, so I could call the Two Men Party and the Three Women Party. One group worked hard to keep a cap on our resale prices and the other campaigned hard to remove the cap, I could call them the Cap and the No Cap parties. But I have decided to call them the Big-endians and the Little-endians, after the two parties that Lemuel Gulliver discovered in Lilliput.

To be continued