Christianity

Leaving our Marks: Interiors, Exteriors, and Bodies

In the late 1990’s into the early 2000’s there was a magazine called Nest: A Quarterly of Interiors.  It’s one of the few magazines from when I subscribed to magazines that I have kept the issues, and even purchased some back issues.  What has stuck with me about the magazine is that it wasn’t a showcase, rather it featured articles about the interiors of peoples actual homes as they lived in them.  Often the homes were of artists or authors, though I also remember an issue that featured the interior of the apartment of a stock broker or analyst who worked on Wall Street, and an issue that featured a home made out of milk crates by someone who was otherwise “homeless”.  The articles that accompanied the photos of these interiors were always reflective and philosophical. Each issue was organised around a theme.  The point of Nest was that we leave our trace, our mark, upon the world and attention to the interiors of our homes gives us a glimpse into our interiors (souls/selves).

We are in need of such witness to the relation between what we now call our spirituality and our physicality and the spaces we inhabit.

I grew up among Lutheran Pietists. We affirmed the Resurrection and the body, to a point, the focus of our embodiment was song and music, we had (to borrow a term from the Anglobaptist) a sonic theology.  But too much attention to clothing, the interior of our houses, or the visual arts was discouraged.  This wasn’t so much a denial of the body as a fear of mere ornamentation.  We could spend time focused on singing and playing instruments, and the beauty of the sounds these physical things made but to pay attention to my own appearance, to decorate the house, to meditate upon a painting wasn’t a priority.  Physical beauty for decoration was superfluous and secondary to natural beauty (sunsets, flowers, the well tilled earth, the night sky, the unadorned body, etc.).

I was more visual, I preferred painting and drawing to singing and playing music, I was concerned with fashion, to the puzzlement and bemusement of my mother.  Though she also appreciated that I could tell her if a certain blouse or skirt would go with an existing item in her wardrobe when shopping for clothes.

In a foriegn country staring at myself in the mirror after letting my beard and hair grow out, I realized I could communicate who I was and wanted to be through my appearance.  Not that I thought all would always interpret these signs as I intended (but that’s the way of things Cf. AKMA on interpretation).  This awareness was also the solidifying of my growing goth identity.  It was also for me a theological affirmation: Resurrection had to mean that my physicality had meaning and primary importance.  My appearance wasn’t simply frivolity and decoration but a primary act of meaning and communication.

When my wife and I got engaged we made a pact against the purely utilitarian in our clothing and household items: what we wore and the objects of our interior needed to be beautiful and meaningful as well as useful.

As a regular feature of Gothic musings I’m starting a series on the beauty meaning and self expression of our habitations, clothing, interiors, and architecture.  I invite you to think with me about the meaning and beauty of our habitation: whether in simplicity or extravagance, with meager or abundant means. I have some people I’d like to see what their interior and fashion are like and to hear them reflect on the interiors of their homes and their fashion choices.  I also invite you to leave a comment here or contact me if you’d like to share photos and/or an essay on your physical habitation and its meaning.

These will be found in Gothic Musings because the goth aesthetic is, in part at least, about giving a particular expression of an identity and outlook through dress and decor.  Though,  this theme cuts across all aspects of priestly goth, whether ecclesiology, spiritual direction, or iconography, it all is about the meaning of embodiment and beauty as an outworking of the doctrines of the incarnation and resurrection.

In the next few days, I will post photos of the interior of the Community of the Holy Trinity with some thoughts on what the common spaces of the community say about myself and the community and the other members of the community.

And to wet your appetite here are some photos of my self presentation in the world:

(Click on the photos to see a slide show and see the comments on each photo)

 

A dying Church? or is it Christendom or Christianity? (Part 2)

I left off in part 1 with a discovery.  At 5 almost 6 years old by asking if a friend wanted to come t a VBS I discovered there were people that not only went to church infrequently (this was so in my own extended family), but for whom church had no place at all in their lives.  this friend it turns out didnt even know who Jesus Christ was.

My friend never came to vacation bible School (VBS).  An awareness came to me in this moment in this town where school superintendents, police, the pharmacists, those who made up the volunteer fire department, were members of Kingsburg Covenant church and other congregations in the town (I assume that the mayor and city council were also members of these same Christians congregations in town but I don’t recall ever knowing who was the mayor of Kingsburg ) who was or wasn’t considered a “good citizen” were evaluated by their commitments to these Christian congregations.  This sense of things had no place for someone who had no association at all with these congregations. I had assumed  that in someway everyone even if they didn’t attend church regularly was in the orbit of the christian faith, I had assumed Christendom.  At that moment I both discovered what Christendom was and that there was something outside of Christendom.

Around the same time as this revelation, one communion Sunday, I asked my parents if I could receive communion, I wanted to receive Jesus in the bread and wine.  My parents had me ask Pastor Elving after the service.   Pastor Elving didn’t answer yes or no, but had a conversation with me about why I wanted to receive communion.  I don’t remember what pastor Elving said to me nor exactly what I said to him, I do remember sharing the desire to receive Jesus.  I was told later (i don’t remember Pastor Elving saying this) that I had a better understanding of Communion than many adults.  I was impatient for the next communion Sunday,  and it began to feel odd to me that we didn’t celebrate the Eucharist every Sunday.  In communion and in the caring concern of Pastor Elving our moment of shared faith in the presence of Christ in bread and wine was another moment of Church that transcended the particular practices of that particular congregation though it was also mediated and manifested in that congregation and through the Pastoral office as Pastor Elving embodied it.

I can say then that my experience was uneven, and I can’t  imagine what would have happened had my parents and Pastor Elving had dismissed my longing for the body of Christ expressed in the desire to share in the bread and the cup.  I do remember thinking it odd that the adults seemed perfectly content to receive Christ only once a month. Christian opinions about guarding the specialness of this symbolic meal were repeated possibly whenever I asked for an explanation.  This opinion didn’t seem to fit with the words spoken, with the solemnity with which Pastor Elving prayed and spoke over bread and wine, the seriousness with which he questioned my desire to receive.  There was no affirmation of encounter with something that could not be diminished by the frequency of the encounter, no sense of  the need for this mystical abiding through physical and ordered means, which I’m here naming church.

When we moved from Kingsburg to Los Angeles as I began Confirmation, the Covenant congregation we ended up going to (because my sister and I liked the youth and children’s programs ), I discovered Christianity without Christendom.  Many of my pears connection to the faith was fairly shallow in comparison with the many layers of Church, Christianity and Christendom of Kingsburg.  They went to church because their parents went and they were told they had to come.  That in the gathering was needed spiritually, that in coming together with other members of the Body of Christ that one was then formed into Christ, that in church one encountered God and Christ in each other and in bread and wine was largely either unimportant or unknown among most of my peers.  Attending church seemed meaningless to them, at least form my sense of gathering to encounter God.  It was here to that for the first time since nursery that I was segmented off into my age group and no longer regularly was in worship with my parents.

I experienced these distinct and overlapping entities: Church, Christianity and Christendom.  As I’ve interpreted it and recollected this experience, Christianity and and Christendom are partially negative aspects of my experience of Church.  I’d argue that Christianity and Christendom were only negative in their decadent and decaying interactions.  The web of connections between family, congregation, other Christian congregations in the town of Kingsburg and the influence Christianity had upon the civic and social fabric of the town created for me a unified world that was positive and life affirming.  In many ways this entire experience was ecclesial.  Yet there were always cracks in that world.  As I discovered not only a world beyond the institutions of Christendom but also came to realize that for many in congregations (including some of leaders ) that what was for  matrix and life was for them about keeping boundaries,  following rules, and believing propositions, i could have concluded that the Church was nothing but a human institution. Yet I didn’t come to that conclusion, because something in my experience, whichis hard for me to put my finger on, lead me to see the difference between these three things: Christendom, Christianity, and Church.  Only one of these was needful, life giving, and about life,  that one thing is the Church.  Church was manifest and transcended every local instantiation of it i have experienced. In some local instantiation, I must also admit that the Church was hardly present.  It’s possible that many people know Christianity and Christendom but haven’t a clue about this thing called Church the Body of Christ, and I suspect that much of this talk about death of Church is really the uncovering that not every group of Christians is the Church.

 

A dying Church? or is it Christendom or Christianity? (Part 1)

The Anglobaptist brought to my attention the Sojourners blog series “Letter’s to a dying Church”(I  haven’t read all of them but I’ve read a few).  At Tripp’s blog, I’ve said that I agree with those that are saying (some of them in their “letters”, that it’s not the church that is dying but Christendom or Christianity.  I’ve made these distinctions here before.  There’s a key difference between these three entities and phenomena.  but I do see in what I’ve read and in the Sojourner chosen title for this series a tendency to conflate these three, and use in the very least Church and Christianity as synonymous and  thus conflate the Christian religion with the Body of Christ.

I want to focus on this confusion of related but distinct entities, because the title of this series and some of the responses show an inability for a clear path of thinking regarding our predicament.   Thus, as I see it the title of  this series and many of the letters only deepen our confusion and our hopelessness.

But in the spirit of Sojourners letters, I will  take a personal rather than theoretical or philosophical theological approach.   I will in a very American way talk about my experience of these three entities and phenomena, as I have encountered them in the local congregation of my upbringing, Kingsburg Covenant Church in the Central Valley of California, and in the my denomination of my birth, baptism, confirmation, and ordination, The Evangelical Covenant Church.

The place where I remember my nurture in the Faith was a largely Swedish congregation with roots in the Lutheran Pietist Tradition, Kingsburg Covenant Church.  But it isn’t where my story began.  It began in the suburbs of Chicago, At Winnetka Covenant Church, There I was Baptised into the Body of Christ. There community and family deliberately and through sacrament handed me over to another reality: a reality  in which they shared, Christ and the Church.    Before  I was able to take in who I was in relation to family, or nation, or any other human association I was delivered from the tyranny of all those identities, and could hold them or leave them in light of being in Christ.  This is of course a very adult and post seminary and theologians summary of what was implicit in the matrix of my early years.  On some level it was a very simple weekly or more often event.  On a regular basis I was entrusted to those with whom I had no familial connection, who didn’t live in the same neighborhood as my family, many of whom I saw only in this place, but experientially it was clear I was theirs, and my parents left me with them in this place called the nursery.  I don’t remember anything about my time at Winnetka Covenant church. Yet,  Baptism changed me, transferred me to a parallel and other actuality in which my parents were also embraced and nurtured, in that place we were all children… children of God.

Winnetka Covenant church and Kingsburg Covenant church provided me this sense of Church as Mother, the matrix in which we all lived together as Christ’s, as God’s children, fellow heirs with Christ.  I learned this in the nursery.  It was at Kingsburg Covenant Church that I first became aware of my nurture in the faith through two members of the Body of Christ, a married couple who in my nursery days were always working in the nursery, showing us toddlers the love of the Church and of Christ.

For a time in the small town of Kingsburg (my mother’s home town) church, family (my grandparents and 2nd cousins and other distant relatives all went to church together) and community seemed like a unified whole.  My best friend and I saw each other in church, we went to preschool and then kindergarten together, I knew others in town went to other congregations, and that some thought less of some of those other groups, but mostly it seemed to me that all of us were Christian, the reality of the Church, my matrix bled out from those gathered on a Sunday and encompassed my sense of the entire city of Kingsburg.  Here is the realm of Christianity and Christendom in my early childhood experience.   As a child it was largely irrelevant whether or not those other Christians experienced, Christ and the nurture of the church and love of Christ as I did.  I most likely assumed they did if the it ever crossed my mind to wonder? I don’t think it did.

However, my awareness of Christianity and Christendom as distinct from Church as Mother and nurturer of my faith and of my self in God and Christ, came in conflict and a jolt to awareness that not all had my experience of God, Christ, Church and our civic community.  This awareness came about the same age at 5 or six, it came in school, Sunday School, and at the end of my Kindergarten year, so I was almost six.

In Sunday school there were a few teachers who insisted that the children had to say the prayer of faith (my recollection it was the minority of teachers) to become Christians and be saved.  I had experienced the love of Christ in his Church and through that nurture had faith in God and Christ, to the extent a 5 or 6 year old could. The insistence on “the prayer” was just pure nonsense.  I don’t know if this is a supposition based on later life experience or something I experienced then, but I have a sense that for those teachers my refusal was a cause for concern born out of fear not love.  From these well meaning Sunday school teachers, I encountered  a form of Christianity separate from the church as Mother and the Sacraments.  We had to come to God by this isolated expression of faith.  This notion was coercive. Not as coercive as some other contexts, but it was assumed that those of us children who had not said the prayer lacked something.  The saying of the magic words disconnected from relationship or sacrament would make all the difference.  Having felt the embrace of God through the love of the church through having passed through the waters of Baptism this Christianity had little appeal to me.  They wanted me to meet God, but couldn’t see that I was living in the womb of God, the Church.

I encountered Christendom  when I asked a friend from Kindergarten to come to Vacation Bible School.  My friend didn’t know anything about church, or the Bible.  he understood vacation and school (and they seemed like contradictory concepts to him), but Bible and going to church even Jesus Christ were unknown to hi., It was that moment that I discovered a world outside of Christendom: the Chrsitian familial and civic connections that had up and until that point made up my understanding of the city of Kingsburg.   In part 2 I will talk about this discovery of Christendom in the negative, and of a Christendom on its way to it’s death, at least in California in the 1970’s.

On Living in a Futile and Crooked Generation

This reflection is a riff on  the Sermon I preached at Reconciler on May 4th, the Third Sunday of  Easter. The Gospel text is the Road to Emmaus, the other Scripture texts are a portion of Peter’s sermon at Pentecost and the beginning of the First Letter of Peter

We can lose sight of the meaning of Pascha, of the Resurrection and this season of Easter.  Conservative or Liberal we may be tempted to see this as about morals, or justice, or ethics.  Or maybe we want the Resurrection and the incarnation to be a principle we can apply.  All of this doesn’t take seriously enough the human predicament.  Doesn’t take seriously our own, my own, predicament.

Our predicament (my predicament) is futile, it leads towards death. It is a dead end.

What was Peter preaching on that first Pentecost?  Was he calling people to repent from being part of the mob that handed Jesus of Nazareth over to be crucified. I don’t think so. Jesus on the way to Emmaus tells Cleopas and his companion that  the Messiah had to suffer, had to die, had to enter the tomb.  It doesn’t help to repent from our predicament, that we are stuck.  That we live in a world dominated by death, violence, injustice and oppression.  No, the change of mind Peter called for and which Peter still calls us to, is to decide with what will we identify, the one who was crucified, who we crucified, or the crooked generation.  Are we going to identify the one who entered our tombs our dead end world, or are we going to identify with an age and a generation that can only offer us a life that ends in our death, the dead end.

If we have difficulty understanding the faith of the Apostles and the nature of the Joy of this season of  Easter it is because we think God came to transform a dead end age into the Kingdom of God.  This is also what everyone at the time of jesus thought the Messiah was going to do, no one thought the Messiah was going to become accursed in Death, die on a Cross.  The Messiah wasn’t supposed to do that, Cleopas says so.

Jesus has to set us on a different path.

Jesus, as we know from the Gospel of the Second Sunday of Easter after the Resurrection still has the wounds.  Christ really died, and by death beat down death an on those in the tombs bestowing life.

If we are to understand what has been achieved for us and live it out in our daily life,  ff the joy of the Resurrection is to penetrate, we must admit that we are still in the tombs.  It is to us and all humanity that Christ has come.  The tombs, Christ undergoing death isn’t simply some past event, it is what it means to be rescued from the futility and meandering path of our generation, of this age.

This should lead us to repentance and conversion (one that is continual throughout our lives, not a one time event) as we encounter again and again how we tend to simply wander to our deaths, without purpose.  Continually repent from how we live according to this generation and age that is passing away and convert to the age of life and Joy that has come, and is to come.

The futility and crookedness of this age has little  to do with its ethics or morality, nor its principles, but simply that it is given over to death.  We can live as Martin Heidegger described in his philosophy as being towards death, or we can become identified in baptism and Eucharist with the one who is Life itself.  This doesn’t change the nature of this generation and age that is being towards death, but it changes us so that in these tombs we and those around us may have life.  This is the path of discipleship, this is the path of the cross, this is the purpose of the ascetic and mystical path, that we may be Christ, who is life in the midst of this futile age that is passing away, that is being towards death.

There’s another possible misunderstanding here, to identify this age or generation with the physical universe and the age to come and of life with the non-material.   Or to see it as a past/present verse future dichotomy.  What is proclaimed though is to ages and generations existing as alternate “dimensions”.  Or another way of putting it two ways of being, one way which is being towards death the other which is being in life.  Both are physical and spiritual, material and immaterial.  This is why it is key to affirm the bodily Resurrection of jesus and that Thomas could have put his finger in Jesus’ wounds.

I recommend also reading the sermon, if you haven’t already done so, to get the fullness of this thought.

Listening to Wisdom of the Silent Tomb

Today is Holy Saturday, I generally try to let the silence of this day settle in.  We wait on this day.  It is the last day of the Lenten fast.  Any who have been fasting are probably weary of it by now.  We have come to the end.

There is  a deathly silence to this day.  Silence and listening are more than not using words.

Today, many people are running about their business with no attention to Jesus Christ in the tomb.   Many Christian traditions do nothing with this day.

The second reading for Vigils in the Benedictine prayer is an ancient sermon by an anonymous preacher (well we apparently don’t know who preached it.) This preacher reminds us that the day Jesus was in the tomb is the sabbath.  Death has many meanings, it also means rest.  The body of Jesus of Nazareth rests in the grave on the Sabbath.

Silence can also be restful. Grief, loss, death, rest, silence.  Are we listening?

A friend points out how we often struggle to keep these three days together, this  the boundary between Lent and Easter.  Easter can overwhelm us into a search for certainty.

Easter is about triumph, and we can forget the means of that triumph. “By Death Christ beat down Death.” The way of the Cross is the path of Resurrection.

So thanks to the Anglobaptist.  On this Holy Saturday I’m wondering if  the ways in which we seek justice and righteousness and the conflicts surrounding that search are so rancorous among and between us Christians because of our forgetfulness, that is a misunderstanding,  of Resurrection.

We think Resurrection is about certainties or we think it’s about metaphor and principles.  We forget that our sense of certainty and rectitude isn’t the point.

Even after the Resurrection the silence of the tomb speaks to us.  It should in the least remind us that, whatever our positions, whatever our beliefs about justice and righteousness, God come in human form, and who then dies is simply unsettling.  Resurrection doesn’t settle anything, but it unsettles everything.  The wisdom to know what to do after the displacement of Resurrection, comes from a bowl towel and feet, and the silence of the tomb.

Further reflections on fasting and Lent

As I mentioned in this previous post, I’m a novice when it comes to fasting.  Other spiritual practices I’m much more adept at and find much more congenial.  Since this Lenten fast has been one I’m practicing with the church communities I lead The Oratory of Jesus Christ, Reconciler and the Community of the Holy Trinity  fasting has come up in conversation this Lent.

One common thought I’ve run across in these various conversations is that  the point of fasting is endurance.  Fasting is a contest of ones will, and certainly it is that in part.  One could read certain passages of scripture and the desert fathers that do compare asceticism to a type of athleticism, I’d still argue that the point isn’t the endurance.  More to the point endurance is only part of what ascetic practices are about.

Specifically fasting is about awareness that allows us to strengthen or reorient our relationships.  This isn’t obvious.  I’ve discovered that in fasting I become aware of all sorts of things, some of them trivial, some of them significant.  Having good relationships, with our loved ones, with God, with our bodies and what we eat takes awareness.  In our daily life, our ordinary day in and day out habits can deaden us to certain aspects of our lives and relationships.

Now to gain an awareness of the connections and our good and sinful relationships to things and other, one has to endure.  But if one’s focus is upon enduring the hunger, or the abstinence from certain foods, one misses the opportunity to examine what other hungers and desires are also stirred up in one’s self.  Fasting allows us as I said in that other post at the beginning of Lent, to examine our desires.  This is why fasting should be accompanied with prayer and meditation.

But there is even a more.  Since Lent is a penitential season we can see this asceticism as merely the rooting out of sin or evil.  But again if this is our focus we will be frustrated, and only partly effective. What fasting allows is for us to be aware of what good we desire.  The problem isn’t with desire or hunger but that we sometimes desire or hunger for what is ultimately undesirable.

Here, the current secular practice of a vegetable juice fast brings home this spiritual reality.  Part of the point of the juice fast is not only to detoxify (root out sin by analogy) but also to reset what one desires in food, so that one’s hunger actually will satisfy what your body needs.(by analogy fasting can teach us to desire the Good, and find that we truly desire God.)

I’ve said the above is an analogy.  Yet, I’d suggest that spiritual and bodily processes aren’t so separate.  What happens in our body when we fast is also happening to us spiritually, in our souls.  We fast and take up ascetic bodily disciplines not because our souls and bodies are who we are.  At times we need recalibration.  Our hungers and desires are a mismatch of good, mediocre, and evil.  Lent becomes a time to realign ourselves and our relationships to food, to things and to each other.  A basic and primordial way to do this is in our relationship to food, and so we fast.  With prayer and meditation such fasting during Lent can truly lead us to a joyful seasons of Easter where we can find our true desires restored, and find that we simply don’t have the appetite for the mediocre and evil.

The Great Emergence and the problem of periodization

Ed. note: I’ve edited this from a blog post on my personal blog back in 2009.  I’m in the process of reposting here some posts that fit with the themes and projects related to what I’m doing here at Priestly Goth.  I recently re-read The Great Emergence.  My opinion of the work hasn’t changed.

When I first picked up Phyllis Tickle’s book The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why, I already had a bias against the work due to my historiographical training which had instilled a respect and healthy skepticism of periodization in the discipline of history: I see periodization as both necessary but problematic. Dividing up history into periods hides as least as much as it reveals. (We’ll get back to this in a moment.) But also I am sceptical about all this talk about “emergence” specifically that this particular period is particularly significant in terms of emergence. Now to be clear this scepticism is from perhaps the opposite side of what one would expect. I am not denying that things have changed, nor do I think that some static immovable notion of Christianity and church needs preservation.  Rather my skepticism stems from being a product of what was being called post-modern and what seems to be especially with Tickle being called the Great Emergence.

As one who is a product of whatever we want to and will call this shift, I am uncertain that focusing almost exclusively on change or “emergence” is the best way for Christians to keep their bearings. On some level my scepticism is that apart from rapid technological change, what we are talking about doesn’t simply happen at discrete moments or even discrete extended moments and then stop, something Tickle admits throughout her work, though all while insisting on the new . But if we leave aside problematic periodization and the desire to compartmentalize time one simply has flux of a continual emergence. Things morph slowly or quickly from one thing to another, one can choose to attempt to stabilize this flux long enough to make generalizations over extend periods of time but then one is also simultaneously needing to admit that at the beginning of period x one still has the traits of the preceding period y to a large degree and only modified slightly and by the time one can talk about period x having a full blown and distinguishable traits from period y, one is already finding traits that are to come in the period Z. And so forth and so on ad infinitum. (again something Tickle does admit, but to admit this deconstructs her framework).

My difficulty with The Great Emergence,  is that Tickle doesn’t offer this periodization as a useful construct for understanding developments in (Western) Christianity but in some sense posits that this periodization as a real happening within the flow of time and human culture, or at least what we now Call “Western” culture,  that is an empirical description of the nature of time and pan-cultural process.  I can accept it as a useful construct, that gives us a mythology with which to understand our situation,though I may prefer other mythologies, but it doesn’t pass muster as an actual description of the way things are, nor could such a brief overview of vast historical periods do so.

One of the things that is enjoyable in reading Tickle as well as listening to hear speak is the poetry of her thought. She uses the image (that she borrowed) of that emergence every 500 years is when the Church has a “rummage sale”: things get shaken up, excess is redistributed and one feels lighter. While the image of rummage sale seems apt for our time especially for those who are attaching themselves to Emergent or the emergent church. Some things thought long gone are dug up and polished off and used again and things once thought essential are tossed out, and its pretty much up to the individual or particular group exactly what is tossed and what is polished up and used again.

The Reformation (Or “Great Reformation” according to Tickle) is perhaps aptly described, though it seems to be a very Protestant characterization of what happened. I have difficulty seeing Roman Catholics or the Orthodox using such characterization to understand themselves in this period. However, I think it is an apt description what the reformers  themselves(Luther, Zwingli, Calvin etc.) were doing: digging around in the attic with a good bit of jettisoning of what was thought to be of little importance by the reformers.

Yet if we look at her two preceding periods this metaphor and the notion of emergence is more problematic. The Great Schism is a bit more complex and difficult to truly make a clear before and after. The differences between East and West in Christianity preceded even Constantine, the roots for the final split ran deep. And many would claim that language and not any real change or even actual difference between “East” and “West” contributed to the schism. Greeks stopped knowing Latin, Latins stopped knowing Greek.  There were certainly differences but those differences weren’t new, what was new was a breakdown in communication. This is at least one theory of what happened. We know the anathema’s were thrown about, but exactly why they happened at that time beyond noting the personalities involved is uncertain. It did create a new situation one we still live with, and which Tickles analysis of emergence is based on being on the Western side of the schism (we should not forget that if we sought to do this examination from the Christian “Greek” Eastern perspective the the Reformation would be a local European phenomenon, not a pan-ecclesial or even pan-Christian phenomenon).

The Schism with what are now called the Oriental Orthodox Churches, is also difficult to account in the terms of emergence that Tickle is using. Again one possible interpretation of this schism is that it was mostly a misunderstanding stemming in part from culture but again also from language. Those who rejected Chalcedon weren’t keen towards Greek philosophical language and thus did not appreciate the use of the technical use of philosophy for defining dogma.  Also, in terms of religious rite, ecclesial organization, and the use of a type of iconography etc. the Oriental Orthodox are more a variation on a theme than clearly distinct from either Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholicism.  So, it is unclear how much was actually being rethought and whether or not a “rummage sale” is an apt metaphor.

Then we come to the Christ event, but can we as Christians merely list that event as a simple point in a emergent pattern of history? Sure it was the right time so there was something about the time that allowed for God to act or precipitated God acting or however one wants to say this, but surely the Christ event and its tumult has less to do with patterns in history and more to do with that something beyond the merely historical took place, and that the renewal of the entire cosmos and the meaning and end of history entered the cosmos and history. Surely the Christ event cannot either be the beginning point of a particular historical pattern nor simply part of the pattern but inaugurates something beyond our historiographic propensity to periodization.

As can be seen my bias towards a certain understanding of periodization leads me to a certain deconstructive read of Tickles mythology of Great Emergence.  It’s a good story, and in that sense it is also good history, but it isn’t the only story that could be told.  

Seeing the lie behind a truth: Sermon for First Sunday in Lent

Sermon preached for the Oratory of Jesus Christ, Reconciler.  I don’t always post my sermons here but this sermon has a tone and subject matter that fits well within the Cure of Souls thread.  Our approach to Lent at the Oratory is a form of  group spiritual direction around different aspects of Lent and spiritual disciplines.  This Lent we are fasting together.  

Was the serpent correct?  Today we read the account of the Fall and Temptation of Christ. We hear of the first and last temptation of humanity.  During Lent we confront sin and its consequences.

What are we to make of the words of the Serpent and this story of the fall? Is it fair of God to put in front of us this fruit we couldn’t eat, and did death truly result from it?  In one sense, the serpents mocking of the consequence of eating the the fruit was correct, Adam and Eve didn’t drop dead on the spot, but as Paul says it brought condemnation and dominion of death.  We see this immediately, Adam and Eve who were open and free with each other suddenly experience separation and shame and they hide from each other and from God.  No longer are they free and completely open, naked with each other.  They experienced separation; death ultimately is a separation that can’t be bridged.    Don’t we know this separation, from ourselves, from our loved ones, from our friends, and most obviously from our enemies?  We may have moments of connection, and yet there is always already separation; a painful awareness that we could be left alone.  We have the painful awareness that making and keeping the connection with others is tenuous, this is part of the dominion of death. We might say that one act set in motion a world torn apart, where relationships are tenuous, even the best ones still come to an end.  The serpent spoke a half truth.

We humans have this tendency to believe the half-truth, which is really to believe the lie that is contained in the other half of the half-truth.   In both the temptation in the garden and Jesus’ temptation in the desert, we see what we are up against and what we (I think) can recognize in our own souls:  temptation often comes as half-truth that appeals to a good desire, but asks us to trust only the desire, rather than trust the whole truth about the world, others, and God.

The tempter comes and says, “ Look, you won’t drop dead!  You can look and see that this fruit is not poisonous. You can see and smell that it is good to eat.”  All true but covered over in these true words is the lie that God doesn’t really care for you, God is keeping this from you for no good reason.  This is the slipperiness of temptation and the winding path we follow into Sin.

We don’t know what would have happened if we hadn’t grabbed at the knowledge of good and evil.  We arent’ told what was ultimately intended by this one fruit. Did God intended us to have the knowledge of God and evil?  What we are told is that we grabbed it.  And what we do know is that our knowledge of good and evil didn’t give us the power to only do the good and avoid the evil, rather it has given us the propensity for both, and in such away that our doing good never really overcomes the evil. Many faithful have said that at some point this knowledge would have been given to us, but because we took it, because we sought it separated from God and God’s caring love for us, it could only distort our true humanity.  Now that we have it we can’t deliver ourselves from evil and the consequences of that first mistrust of God, that first failure of faith.

The good news is that all our sin, our separation our pain and suffering all the evil  in the world is just the beginning of the story, not the end.  When we sin, when we see oppression and violence in the world, we are simply playing out that scene in the Garden with Eve and Adam and the Serpent, but God tells another story .   God rewrites the story and changes the ending.  This rewrite is that one comes, a human, and meets the serpent again. This human being is so united with God that trust in God isn’t shaken by the half-truths the serpent speaks; the tempter, Devil using the Scriptures the Word of God against God in human flesh.  So, this time humanity is ready, In Jesus of Nazareth, the incarnate Son, sees through the half-truth to the lie, and trusts that God truly fulfills our good desires.  Jesus of Nazareth, hungry and tested doesn’t need to grasp after the good things because God never intends to keep from us any good thing.  In fact all good is from God.  Your desire is from God, even that desire which might be unfulfilled at any particular moment, or even for one’s whole life.

Here we are, on the edge of the desert and the garden, intentionally entering a period of fasting and yes temptation, called into the desert with Jesus.  You will hear the tempter, the serpent; you will encounter your demons.  Be not afraid, know your desires are good, know that God will truly fulfill them.  However, hold your desires lightly.  Accept that not all desire can or should be fulfilled immediately or at all times. We fast to remind ourselves that our desire for food and other things while good should not devour and control us.  Desire is good, but if we accept the lie in the truth of the goodness of desire and believe that a good desire must be satiated now we fall into sin: we become separated from the one who will fulfill the desires of our hearts, the one who is what our hearts ultimately desire.

So, contemplate this Lent these two temptations, one which lead to our fall, the other which lead to our victory.  Let Christ’s faithfulness be your faithfulness.  Remember this Lent that you are Christ, you are the beloved, and in baptism you have the Spirit and have taken on Christ.  Trust in this and see the Tempter flee from you.  Even so, don’t be disheartened by a failure, for even in failure you are still Christ’s.  Repent, get up and accept God’s grace and forgiveness, assured that you are being transformed into this new humanity, which saw through the half-truth to the lie through faith and trust.

God loves you, your desires are good but they don’t need to be fulfilled: before temptation trust this truth. And to paraphrase St Augustine: as we begin this Lent and fast together, Love this one who is the desire of your soul, and do what you will.  Amen

“Going to Church” and the Church as Body of Christ.

I mentioned in my reflection on intimacy and public worship that I had some more ecclesiological thoughts in response to Donald Miller.  Instead of putting Donald Miller’s ecclesiology to the question,  I will simply explore how we are talking about church attendance and how we may approach that from asking questions of what sort of thing we are as the Body of Christ, the Church.

My corner of the interwebs tells me there is much anxiety and frustration about church attendance.  My sense of all this is that we want to make church many things: intimate encounter with God, community, cultural expression, an environment for learning, etc. In many ways church is all those things and more.  However, one can find those things elsewhere.  They don’t give compelling reason for why there should be church, and even less compelling reason to attend church.  These reasons for going to church or being part of a church are all good things, but not sufficient reason to bother with church.

The Apostle Paul uses the language of body to talk about the ecclesia.  This language is both political, that is in the sense of body politic, and biological, as in what makes up a biological organism.  Elsewhere Paul also uses the language of a temple, a structure that is both built and organically grows (ya, he mixes metaphors to get at what the ecclesia is).

Then we have our english term “church” , which translates the greek word ecclesia.  Our usage “church” varies. Church can, in its broadest sense, be any religious institution.  More specifically and more commonly “church” means any institutionalised group of Christians, a local congregation and/or a denomination of Christians.

 If I’m remembering correctly the etymology, is the germanic Kierke which was derived from the greek Kyrie (Lord), that which belongs to the Lord (God, Christ).

As the Church we are the people of God, an ecclesia, a gathered people, called and gathered together by God.

What I’d like to suggest is that to be the Church, and to do what the Church does, ie worship, is formative.  We are formed, built and grow into what we are.  This takes all sorts of rites, rituals, and activities.  These have various forms corporate, bodily, personal.  Yet, none of those things exhaust who we are and who we are being formed into.  This is formative and it is collective.  Church and worship are about being a body, stones built into a living temple. Through baptism, faith, Eucharist we are becoming, and are, a holy nation of priests, together.

It’s possible that we can be tempted to reduce church to only one aspect of our usage, such as  if we were to assume church is only a building based on  english usage that elides the architectural structure of our being gathered and who we are as the people of God, because the building and the group carry the same name.  However, the problem isn’t that the place of our gathering bears the name of who we are as the body of Christ, nor is the problem that it comes to be attached to the activity of gathering.  The problem is separating ourselves from what we are through seeing church as a building or an activity that exists or goes on without us.

I want to suggest that our participation is key in becoming what we are, but this formation doesn’t occur because of our action only.  Our actions are what agree with what God is doing.

We get baptised, we eat bread and wine, we are anointed, hands are laid upon us, and these things form us into a particular type of “being”, but they do so because of what God is doing in and through these rituals rites, actions, words, music, and eating.

We can neither be solely focused on God, nor solely focused on what we do.  Nor is this about my personal individual experience, unless by personal one posits the presence of others, and God as the ultimate other, as part of the makeup of the person.

What I have said here, simply scratches the surface of what church and worship are and do.  We are and are becoming what God forms us into. We are what God gathers us to, we become the people of God , the Body of Christ, the Ecclesia, the Lord’s.  We are the church and so we go to church, and we attend church as the church.  And language fails us, and language helps us  know who we are becoming, a living temple.