These are the icons in which and around which we live as we celebrate the liturgy of the Three Days:
Maundy Thursday as we wash feet and remember the supper we return to again and again in Eucharist.
Then we are here at the Cross and Jesus Christ in the Grave:
Behold the life-giving Cross.
And then Jesus Christ in Hades/Sheol/Hell the land of the dead, the shades, bringing up Adam and Eve:
I have meant to write this icon for years. I never have. I think I shrink from its truth. If I were to paint I would need to fully enter into it and face it, in all its pain and all its glory. God entered the depths of our humanity and the world and pulled us up. This is too much.
I haven’t blogged about Holy Week and the Three Days and Easter this time around. Mostly because this year I felt silence was the place from which to encounter this mystery again. I’m not preaching at all this festival cycle, so no sermons to post either.
How does one mark silence as intentional in the cacophony of the internet?
I suppose this is one way to speak around the silence to say I’m being silent for a reason, not just because I haven’t posted anything or haven’t tweeted anything.
Milton Brasher-Cunningham’s book Keeping the Feast: Metaphors for the Meal is a feast packed into a small book. It is a book to savor, and to return to again and again. A mixture of prose, poems, and recipes creates a delightful read, and a sense of sitting around Milton’s table or sitting with him in his kitchen as he prepares a meal. This is a rich book that weaves together reflections on the place of meals and foods in our life and relationships and through these stories of food and cooking illumines the author’s understanding of the Eucharist.
Each Chapter of the book is opened with a poem and concludes with a food poem, I mean, recipe. The connection between the poem the chapter and recipe aren’t necessarily obvious, though the dish of the recipe generally functioned as a central component of the chapter it concludes. I found this as an encouragement to make my own connections and conclusions as a reader. Through the poems I anticipated what I might find in the coming chapter and the recipe allowed me to savor the chapter just read. In doing this I was continually longing for something more. Each chapter left me feeling that there was a hollow part of Brasher-Cunningham’s account of meal and Eucharist.
There is so much to affirm and to relish and savor in this book about meal and Eucharist. The connections between breaking bread around dinner table with friends and family, and the bread broken and distributed, and cup blessed and passed are beautiful and moving. Yet, these metaphors and reflections tended to send me to the anthropocentric aspects of Eucharist. In the we make meals, Brasher-Cunningham seems to conclude, so we as humans of faith make the Eucharist. We become the body of Christ by what we do, by the connections that exist between meal and Eucharist. I find this hollows out the Eucharist of its divinity. The transformation offered as only that which other fallible foible filled humans, Rather than by the very presence of the God-human Jesus Christ in bread and wine.
Keeping the Feast then attends to one side of the equation of the Eucharist, and is a beautiful reflection on how one may weave altar and the meals we share with friends and family every day. The lopsidedness of the book left me wanting more. And perhaps that is part of the point.
I begin this review with a confession. I’ve never read The Shack. I remember when it rose in popularity, but I didn’t read it. I didn’t read it because, I must confess, I have a deep bias against popular spirituality and the books and the book industry around said spirituality. The Shack Revisited: There Is More Going on Here than You Ever Dared to Dream, by C. Baxter Kruger, seeks to show that The Shack is steeped in Trinitarian theology, and an articulation of God’s revelation of God’s self as triune. Having never read the Shack, I leave to others whether or not C. Baxter Kruger correctly interprets the Shack. However Kruger’s presentation of the Trinity from the lens of the Shack shows that one can think and imagine the traditional Trinitarian theology in dynamic and contemporary ways.
Kruger uses the story of the Shack and its presentation of God to illuminate and illustrate the Trinitarian theology of traditional and historic Christian orthodoxy, especially that of the Cappadocian Fathers. Baxter begins with the character of Papa, who is personified as an African American woman. Kruger seeks to show that the Shack’s presentation of God as Papa, Jesus, and S… is orthodox and consistent with traditional Trinitarian teaching. In so doing the author presents a very good summary of orthodoxy and Trinitarian theology.
As someone who has never read the Shack Kruger’s Revisiting the Shack is an interesting read, as it is a thorough going Trinitarian theology that is illustrated with examples from the Shack. While if one has read the shack the author is demonstrating the Shacks orthodox theology. The shack revisited is an accessible and intellectually satisfying articulation of Trinitarian dogma and Christian orthodoxy. If you think Christian Orthodoxy is represented by those who criticized the Shack and who have a religion of the Bible, the Shack revisited is definitely worth your consideration. Kruger uses the Shack and it’s themes and imaginative presentation of the Trinity to show how much contemporary Christianity in the United States has missed the central reality of the Christian faith, relationship in and with God as the Holy Trinity.
I’ve gathered From my Twitter feed the role of beauty and cathedrals was addressed at Emergence Christianity – A National Convention( #EC13 #BigTickle) . This Luther quote was thrown out there as an answer to the problem (though it is only a problem for a certain mindset admittedly dominant among Protestants):
“The people need beauty as well as the Gospel because they live in a world of ugliness.”
I prefer “Beauty will save the world.”
Luther’s quote at first glance makes beauty and physical and material beauty in particular secondary. It divides off beauty from the truth of the Gospel. Beauty isn’t the Gospel it only possibly maybe, if the conditions are right serves truth and the Gospel. God apparently isn’t beautiful, in God’s economy beauty is a second thought.
The Dostoevsky quote, or more to the point a what is said by one of the characters in the Idiot, sees beauty as intrinsic to the world, the gospel, God, and Faith.
This vision is in my mind much more sacramental and truly ecclesial than Luther’s perspective (Which incidentally was also the Frankish perspective at the time of the Iconoclast controversy in the East, and why Frankish Theologians didn’t quite get either the controversy nor understand the theology of the 7th Ecumenical council though they accepted it).
Now one may misunderstand me when I say “sacramental” if one hears reference only to seven (or two) sacraments, and not the condition of possibility within creation itself for the Seven (or Two) Sacraments. For a full and concise treatment of this condition of possibility I recommend Alexander Schmemann’s For the Life of the World.
If we live in a world of ugliness it is because the world has ceased to be what God intended for the universe. If God can be joined with creation, if bread and wine can be come the body and blood of Jesus Christ, if water can be our passage from death to new life, it is because what is physical, what God created was always supposed to be our communion with God. If we see what is beautiful and do not see God it is not because beauty is a distraction or secondary, or non-essential, but because the world is no is no longer for us what God created it to be.
But now, as I sit with the Luther quote i have a second thought. If we no longer hold that beauty is secondary, and if we hold that God is to be met in our physicality, Luther’s quote is perhaps the same as the Dostoevsky quote. The ugliness is due to the fall, to our loss of God in the everyday. We then need Cathedrals, Icons, and beauty to have the truth of the Gospel, and have God, because in the present age the world is opaque to Beauty, but it is to be translucent. It was to be our connection to our Life. Sacraments return to us physical things as the whole universe was to be for humanity, the means of our communion with God, our very sustenance in body and soul. Then in a Cathedral we are in the presence of God through its beauty. This was my experience of the cathedrals of Europe as a child. I carried that experience with me until I rediscovered the broad and deep theology of the Sacramental transfiguration of the World in Jesus Christ.
Daniel Meeter’s Why Be a Christian (If No One Goes to Hell) is a mixed bag. At points the author’s analysis is spot on, at times a little heavy handed in what he rejects, and at moments deeply moving. Some of this mixed bag is that I clearly am not the author’s audience: I’m a lifelong Christian and a pastor, I long ago wrestled with questions of Heaven and Hell and in my way came to analogous conclusions of the author (I just never wrote a book on them.) While I know that what Meeter’s calls conventional Christianity, the faith of those who raised me in and taught me the faith only resemblance to Meeter’s “conventional” Christianity was their traditional Christian beliefs about the afterlife. Interestingly enough this form of the Christian faith I was raised in while we believed in hell, the reasons given for being a Christian are all the reasons outlined in Meeter’s book. So I wonder are his somewhat idiosyncratic (and defensible from scripture) position on heaven and hell, necessary to make the point he was trying to make.
He admits the book isn’t really about the afterlife, heaven or Hell, it is an introduction to the Christian life and faith. As a summary of Christian life and faith for the uninitiated, it is a great book. The author presents Christian faith clearly and without deriding or dismissing other faiths and religions lifts up Christianity as a desirable spiritual path. Yet, this summary is framed in a critique not only of a contemporary conventional view but one long held by orthodox, evangelical, catholic tradition. So, how is a new Christian or returning Christian to navigate this idiosyncrasy?
So, while I understand that the present misuses and misunderstanding of both heaven and hell (that basically deny the importance of the resurrection) would need a critique of these conventional misunderstandings, I think the presenting as orthodox the rejection of the traditional view is a little misleading as well. Also I think the positive presentation of Christian faith for the seeker could have been presented without throwing the doctrines of hell and the afterlife out the window. In this sense I think the author throws out the window the baby of traditional doctrine of an afterlife separated from God (Hell) with the dirty bath water of cultural accretions, misunderstandings, and plain old mistakes of what Hell is. He simplifies the Hebraic view and treats it as static denying that Gehenna has its own evolution within Hebraic thought. Meeter pits Hebraic ideas against Hellenistic, but Hebraic thought and culture are not normative nor are they the word of God. The author’s talk about Gahanna while at points accurate is also misleading, since Jesus is using a physical place as a metaphor for a spiritual state, and the pairing of an undying worm with constant fire, doesn’t seem to be the description of a physical place. The fire of Gehenna would go out, and any worms there will die eventually. I agree with him that hell, or unending torment isn’t the reason to be a Christian. I even agree that the popular versions of Hell distort what it might actually be, but I think the doctrine of Hell stands, and to some degree the author gets Hell wrong even as conceived by C.S. Lewis and Dante. Thus for both Dante and Lewis as representatives of imaginative presentations of hell from an orthodox and catholic perspective don’t see the torment so much as external punishment but that in hell, God gives us what we said we wanted in this life. The traditional hope of the restitution of all things is that even after death our souls may awaken to God’s love that is a consuming fire. The traditional doctrine is more complex than the conventional view that Meeter rightly critiques but in his critique conflate the two. Meeter gives short shrift to Tradition in part due to an anti-Hellenistic bias.
In the end I think you can keep much of the traditional view of the afterlife and keep the emphasis of the book on other things like, love, relationship with God, saving your soul etc., as the reasons for being a Christian. I have always seen and been taught to see the afterlife as consequence, or corollary to who and what you were in this life. I have over time come to view heaven less and less as something way out there, and more the deep dimension of the created order where God’s will is done. In the end I feel the author had a bone to pick on the afterlife. A bone I share if you are talking about many contemporary conventional views of the afterlife, but I disagree that Augustine’s and Calvin’s views as such, and thus of the Christian Tradition, are the same as the current conventions. What I’d rather have seen is showing how the current views are (often in subtle and minor ways) distortions of the views held in the Christian Tradition. Thus a great book of introduction to Christian faith and practice is muddied by an unnecessary rejection of tradition.
Holy Terror: Lies the Christian Right tells us to deny Gay equality, by Mel White is a compelling read with an immediacy that draws one in and keeps one’s attention. Mel brings us into his insider view of the Religious Right .I grew up in an (moderate) Evangelical denomination in which I’m ordained, and so I’m somewhat familiar with most of the Fundamentalists Mel White is writing about. Even so I got a better and more human view of the leaders of the Christian Right than I had before reading Holy Terror. Mel White doesn’t just give us a peek inside he offers analysis of the movement and its faith and politics. White concludes with a way to engage and counter the Christian Right and their anti-homosexual ideology.
Part one and two of Holy Terror, gives us a look inside the rise and workings of the Religious right by looking at six main evangelical and fundamentalist leaders and a gathering of fundamentalists at Glenn Eyrie conference center in Colorado in may 1994 . White introduces the reader to the Fundamentalist leaders and their beliefs about homosexuality; we meet them through Mel White’s recollection. In part two we move from Mel’s own personal knowledge of the leaders to transcripts of video from a closed conference at Glenn Eyrie. In this we get a glimpse of the ideas, the personalities and the tactics of these who have had political as well as religious goals to spread their ideas and ensure that America remains a “Christian” nation in name and morality. From the author’s perspective they are genuine and authentic but honestly wrong about a number of things but most relevantly, wrong about homosexuality. In these first five chapters White walks the line between a sympathetic account of those with whom he has major disagreement and a biting expose on what Mel White believes to be a dangerous group.
Parts Three and four move into analysis and response to this religion with a narrowing agenda and focus on homosexuality, taking up an overtly political agenda to carry out its ends. Chapters six and seven show how the Christian Right and Fundamentalism are both a Christian and an American heresy. In chapter six we see how the Christian Right has made an idol of the United States. In Chapter seven White shows us how fundamentalism as a phenomenon is a form of fascism. While White makes some interesting points in these two chapters, I feel the book is at its weakest here. White doesn’t seem entirely comfortable with his own analysis of fundamentalism qua fascism. Even so, if we leave aside the labels, chapter six and seven do show how a narrowing of a focus and an obsession with homosexuality and gaining political influence has distorted Christian faith.
Part four White asks what shall we do, (or to quote Francis Schaeffer “How Then Shall We Live.”). In these chapters White is the most compelling and vulnerable as an author. These three chapters mirror the first three chapters where we see the founders of the Christian Right in their humanity and genuine (if wrongheaded) beliefs. In the last chapters White seeks to show himself as someone who has struggled with the appropriate response to the Christian right, and still struggles in himself with the desire to demonize. His solution to his own anger and frustration and pain is three-fold: “reclaiming” political values, reclaiming moral values, and non-violent resistance. Chapters 8 and 9 have parallel weaknesses to chapters six and seven, but in chapter ten White shines again as he invites the reader on a journey of following Christ through the challenging path of non-violence, in response to and engagement with the Christian Right.
In Holy Terror, Mel White gives a compelling and riveting account of the Christian Right and its narrowing focus and intensified political activity in opposing homosexuality. White goes beyond the “ Lies the Christ Right Tells us to Deny Gay Equality” to both give a human picture of those involved but also offer us a way to with White engage and counter the Christian Right in its Political agenda. While there are some deep flaws in Holy Terror they are the flaws of a human on a journey of following Christ in the midst of pain and controversy.
Things are dovetailing in my mind today. I have started reading Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics, with two others, one a friend and one a new acquaintance. We are taking our time so we are now through his discussion of proclamation and its relation to the Word of God and to dogmatics.
As we discussed this portion of the Church Dogmatics, I recognized how Barth was speaking to me differently than when I first picked up the dogmatics in writing an independent study paper for my Religious Studies course in college. In that paper I was attempting to navigate between a sense of Scripture as Word of God, opposed to the fundamentalists notions of the Scripture as Word of God of those who had taken over the congregation my family and I had been in since I was in Jr. High. Barth helped articulate my experience and understanding of Scriptures as the Word of God, even as I affirmed their humanity and the historical limitations of the Human Authors.
In this reading of Barth and in our discussion last night, I found a very different experience. Barth is still help in giving articulation to my theology and faith. The difference is that I found myself defending the Roman Catholic views Barth is criticizing, and at points agreeing with what Barth thinks is wrong headed, but also feeling that at points Barth doesn’t get Roman Catholic theology at least not if it is taken in it’s broad sweep and not just its articulation in the last two centuries. On my first reading of Barth years ago, I was able to give articulation to my faith in following Barth. Reading the Church Dogmatics I’m finding that my faith is being articulated in my disagreement with Barth.
Even so, his placing proclamation at the center of the church does appeal to me. Though, I can’t see proclamation as being in competition with (or as Barth would say prior to) the Sacraments. Or I say yes Proclamation but feel that such is not simply spoken, but can be non-verbal (I’m an artist and iconographer, so one shouldn’t be surprised.)
Today I’ve been at the North Park Theological Seminary Symposium on the Theological Interpretation of Scripture. This years theme is Family. Related to my disjunction with Barth, is that in this a symposium on Scripture and its interpretation, we seem to be facing so far in our sessions the limits of Scripture. This limit has lead me to wonder about (at moments out loud) both the history of interpretation in a broad sense, but also the authoritative interpretation of these texts as the Tradition of the Church. That is I’m questioning if we can hear or even really know how these texts were understood and heard in their original contexts. Not to say there is no reason to attempt a reconstruction of that, but what is more compelling is the interplay of interpretation across time.
We can’t seem to escape the church, that Scriptures are interpreted overtime, that there is accretion but also that past interpretation retains a certain contemporaneity . Yet, the Protestant response, and certainly Barth’s response to the history of interpretation (or Tradition) is not to seek out a continuity, but to emphasize disjunction and interruption which lead to the need for constant re-evaluation. In the face of this I find myself wanting to say yes to the limits but answer those limits through continuity and seeking the way God is at work in the Church as the Body of Christ joined to its head through time in the messiness of individual members and groups of individual members, even in Christians failing to live out our being as the Church, the Body of Christ.
This doesn’t quite lead me into the arms of Rome or Orthodoxy, why? I think it is that as is Rome and Orthodoxy don’t quite present me with a sense of proclamation and deep significance of Scripture. I perhaps am a catholic and ecumenical evangelical, the proclamation of the Gospel and Word of God need to be emphasized, but with out denial or displacement of sacraments and tradition. It’s a strange place to be.
This is a post in the series on my “sonic identity” a project of reflecting on music and identity following on the path of the Anglobaptist who is exploring such things as part of his Ph.D in Liturgy and Music. There were a number of posts around this topic earlier this year at Anglobaptist.org one can be found here, and my introduction to this series is here.
At a recent Goth club Back to the Grave, these two songs were played (among many others): Homosapien and Temple of Love. I like both songs though stylistically they are different. They are though both songs from important figures in the Goth scene, Sisters of Mercy (Andrew Eldritch) and Pete Shelly of the Buzzcocks. I’ve been dancing to both of these songs at Goth clubs for a very long time. Years ago a friend of mine put on Temple of Love and said this is the quintessential goth song. One could of course argue whether or not saying so was hyperbole, but Temple of Love still gets a large number of people out on the dance floor of any goth club. Pete Shelly’s Homosapien is less quintessentially goth in style, but was played in goth clubs. Shelly’s solo work is synth pop and new wave, though often with a punk edge, as in this song.
But what do I mean by a “punk edge”. By punk edge I’m touching upon (I think, Tripp correct me if I’m off base here) sonic identity. One aspect of Punk is expression, often in anger, of dissatisfaction with the way things are. This dissatisfaction is at times mistaken for winning, but this dissatisfaction is a desire for something different. The goth aspect of this includes a certain resignation that certain things simply will be the way they are, always with biting critique. Goth dissatisfaction can also be expressed as an opting out of this status quo.
Take some time to listen to the sounds in each of these, The lyrics match but I think the lyrics conform themselves to the sounds of longing, dissatisfaction, rejection, and resignation:
Homosapien by Pete Shelly:
Temple of Love by Sisters of Mercy:
Both songs are about love but they aren’t simply love songs.
Homosapien is a love song that is seeking something more in love than the systems of love and romance currently provide. The song explores in the context of romance larger dysfunctional patterns in our culture that get in the way of the ideals of love and romance (BTW it is also a song about two men in love, and was banned initially by the BBC for this, I don’t want to get distracted here but it also calls into question attempts to categorize our sexuality this too is part of my sonic identity). Homosapien expresses dissatisfaction but longs for union beyond romance, longs for a truth and a label that unifies.
“I don’t wanna classify you like an animal in the zoo
But it seems good to me to know that you’re Homosapien too”
A love beyond the broken patterns of the world just might be the way forward.
Temple of Love is angry and more resigned. The powers of love and romance, the god(dess), aren’t kind but are capricious and promise one thing but in fact give us something else. Temple of Love tells us it is better to give up on the promise of the goddess of love, and accept the capriciousness of this power. Be ready to ended it all if needed and remember all romance has the power to give is a one night stand. The gods of love and romance can’t keep their promises, and so even this ideal, these gods will fade away like all other powers.
“The Temple of love is falling down.”
Dissatisfaction, anger and deep longing walk hand in hand in this landscape. There is also in these songs a piercing and critical insight into what is believed to be true and what actually works itself out in our daily lives. Both songs step away from the ideal of romance. Temple of Love abdicates from the ideal entirely, and resigns itself to bleak but honest world without promises. Homosapien seeks in love something beyond romance, it seeks a love that is transformative, though it seems a little bit like a pipe dream.
This resonates with me deeply. The sort of Christian faith I was raised in taught me to distrust the powers and ideals of the world. While there was nothing wrong with falling in love, romance and falling in love were simply shadows of a deeper truth about love. If romance was the only story about love it was seen as idolatrous, a god(dess) in competition with the God who is Love beyond romance and sex, and “falling in Love.” Such a temple would of course be doomed to fall from the perspective that makes relative all love in the face of the Other who is love.
The dissatisfaction and the longing in these songs, I hear (and have always heard) with a Christian heart: One should not be satisfied with the world and the powers as they are for what is, is off kilter and a distortion of what should be. The world as we find it isn’t what God intends. The longing is for the reign of God. I hear in this longing a desire for God who is Love, a Love beyond any human love, a Love that keeps it’s promises, but always in unexpected and transforming ways.
“We’re (however we label ourselves or are labeled) homosapiens too”, made in the image of God, and the powers of this current system, the gods and goddesses we create and to whom we build temples, are all passing a way and their temples are falling down.