Thursday, March 24, 2005

On Matters Liturgical

Today is Maundy Thursday (how can it be maundy if it's Thursday?), and it has been over a month since my last conf... oops, since I have posted here. That's not for want of something to comment on -- good grief! To cite only one example: If I had spent as much time blogging as I have spent time in conversation (and argument) about the Theresa Schiavo horror, I'd have exceed the capacity of whatever server provides for this thing.

One of the things that have occupied me lately was preparing to "teach" a 90-minute class at Augusburg College on "liturgical spirituality." A friend teaches courses on spirituality -- Brad Holt, who has just released the second edition of his book, Thirsty for God: A Brief History of Christian Spirituality, which you can check out here. Since liturgy is my first love in theology, for a myriad of reasons, that was a real kick. I was required to summarize what I mean by "liturgical," to outline the strengths of a liturgical worship "style," and to show how that carries over into a set of personal spiritual and devotional practices. My friend Daniel noted that I probably didn't even notes for that, and I responded that I had to script the blessed thing or I never would have gotten to the point. (I'm not the world's most organized thinker, and I am easily distracted.)

So that took me away from blogging for a time.

I'm also studying Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I can't get around to saying what I find so wonderful about his book Discipleship, although if you check out the blog for the group of us who meet regularly for theological discussion, you'll see some of my thoughts, and also some really fine commentary from people who live a little too far away to drive into South Minneapolis for the discussions. In addition, I am taking a five-week course at Luther Sem on Bonhoeffer's life and theology.

And, of course it's now Holy Week. I always try to clean my spiritual house during Holy Week, taking on a more serious discipline that I practice during the rest of the year.

The upshot is that I'll be back soon with some questions. I find it really necessary to get a better handle on the Lutheran doctrine of the two kingdoms. I'm not sure I can subscribe that the way it is usually presented. It seems way too dualistic either for my taste or for my understanding of Luther. But that latter problem may be the result of reading too much Hauerwas and evangelical Christians.

For now, and with some blushing, I wish you a Blessed Pasch by posting a Great Thanksgiving (Eucharistic Prayer) that I composed a few years ago for use at the Easter Vigil of my parish, Mount Olive. I am honored that it was used last year again and has been requested for this year's.

I'm not satisfied with it, so every year a tinker with it, but I have not altered much of consequence -- perhaps this year I'll get around to a serious edit.

Anyway, if you have comments either good or bad, about what works or what doesn't and could be improved, I'd welcome them. (If it looks weird, I apologize. The text didn't import as smoothly as I hoped: I composed it in sense lines with lots of indents, and that all disappeared, and strange little commands that I didn't want appeared in their place.)


It is our duty and delight
always and everywhere to glorify you, Lord God Almighty,
and to glory in your endless mercy.

Before all time,
you spoke into silence
and called into being
all that exits.

Out of chaos you brought order;
into darkness, you cast light;
out of barrenness you brought forth fruit and fertility;
and out of the dust of your earth
you brought forth sons and daughters
to have and to hold,
to love and to lead,
asking only that we take our place
among your mighty creatures
as the crown of your creation.

When humanity rebelled and sought to go our own way,
you patiently disciplined us
and recalled us to our rightful place
in communion with you
and in service to your creation.

You raised up Israel,
sign and witness of your gracious intent.

espite our dull eyes, dead ears, and disloyal hearts,
you continually called to us
by prophets and preachers,
in signs and wonders,
through exile and restoration.

At last, in the fullness of times,

you incarnated your Son in our flesh
and set him in our midst
to seek and to save all who are lost,
to speak and to show your love,
to promise and to plant your final kingdom.

It was He,
born of Mary and cared for by Joseph,

pointed to by John,

and followed by The Twelve,

who taught and fed multitudes,

received sinners and lepers,

healed the sick and raised the dead,

and opened his arms to suffering and death --

all in order to defeat death

and to put an end to sin.

It was He
whom you raised from death
to vindicate your love
to empty hell,

and to gather a holy people.

And it was He,
who on the night of his betrayal to death,
established this Holy Meal
to be for us
the institution, the guarantee, and the evidence
of your wondrous salvation:

He took bread,
gave thanks,
broke it, and

gave it to his disciples,


“Take and eat.
This is my body, given for you."

In the same way, after supper,
he took the cup,
gave thanks,
and gave it to his disciples,
"Drink of this, all of you.
This is the cup of salvation,
my blood of the new and everlasting covenant,
given for you and for all
for the forgiveness of sins.

Now, as often as we eat of this bread and drink of this cup,
we proclaim your salvation in Him

until He comes.

Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.

Return your Son to us in power and glory,
to claim us as his people,
to establish your eternal reign,
and to share with us the feast that will not end.

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Send, also, we pray, your Holy Spirit,
to make and to enable us to see

this bread and cup
as the Body of your Christ and the cup of his salvation,
to unite all your people in faith and purpose,

and to make of us
a sacrament of your salvation in our time and place.

Amen. Come, Holy Spirit.

Look upon us with favor,

and at the last day,

raise us

to join the Virgin Mary
and Mary the first witness to the Resurrection,

the Apostles and prophets,
patriarchs and martyrs,
that we may then perfectly,
as we now imperfectly,
join their eternal hymn of praise.

All honor, glory, power, and dominion
are yours, Almighty Father,

through your blessed Son,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

now and to all the ages.


© Dwight J. Penas, 2002, 2005

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Lenten politics

I retrieved this from the Sojourners newsletter:

"[Lenten] fasting is also needed in politics - a fasting that allows those who hold power to purify their intentions and their individual or national egoisms. A fasting that allows leaders to see and understand not only that they are mandated to serve and save but also that all human beings, in all nations, are also created and loved by God."

- Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Michel Sabbah
(Source: Zenit )

I can't help but wonder whether the Episcopal rector who frequently looks up to see the President of the United States among his flock has been able to get this idea across to his "member."

Now after that glancing blow: Is it appropriate for religious -- bishops, pastors, laypeople -- to call on the civil orders to organize themselves or to develop policies and projects in ways that the religious think are consistent with the gospel?

I want to post on that question -- especially about the controversy that inspired it -- in a day or so. But I put it out here to get you thinking.

Grace and Peace.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Language, Religion, and Politics

Partisan alert! In this my true colors show through, with no effort to "be fair." In what follows, keep in mind that I do not consider myself a "liberal." I am progressive (after my maternal grandfather's example), with no party affiliation (contrary to his example). I think, however one characterizes herself or himself, that careful consideration of the language one employs and the tone of one's arguments make an enormous difference. I am Christian, a follower of The Word who became flesh -- and as such, I must take words seriously. And that's what this rant is about.
I have many friends and many people I admire who confuse me because, while they are able to get theology right, they come to the wrong conclusions (I think) on a goodly number of pressing social issues. For example, I have been involved in a dispute over public schools, co-ed education, and taxation. These are matters about which reasonable people can reasonably disagree, I guess ( :) ), but it often happens that in the middle of the conversation, one of my disputants will throw in a castigation of "liberals." "Liberals," it appears are responsible for all the social ills facing us -- bleeding heart acceptance of an educational system that is "unaccountable" (trust me: you don't want to get me started on that one!); liberals are responsible for high rates of taxation that breed a culture of entitlement (only let's overlook Enron and Tyco, et. al.; they are not emblematic of anything); and similar arguments. Throw out the "l" word (no: not "Lutheran") and you don't need to say anymore. This seems true not just of political discourse but of religious-ethical conversation, too.

Read First Things, Touchstone, and others among the theological journals and talk to the majority of neo-orthodox theologians of almost any stripe, and you get the same kind of lumping, easy-target language. Go into any chain bookstore and you'll see cover after cover detailing "how liberals hate America" and "how liberals have ruined America" and how liberals "can't think"and you can't "talk" to them. In the Church, liberals, it seems, have ruined the mass, denied it of reverence, traduced the Church's traditions, hate God -- or at least, the true God -- and left the cap off the toothpaste tube (oops, sorry, that's my own complaint) . Liberals control all media (that's one I really have trouble finding evidence for!), so it's desperately hard for the conservatives to get their message out. It's clear that such a "conservative" or "neo-conservative" or something movement is riding high. (I intend to read What's the Matter with Kansas? to help me understand how "they've" gotten there.)

And one of the darlings of the movement is Ann Coulter. She's a former newswoman, apparently. And she's got to be one of the fastest typists on the right. Yesterday in Barnes and Noble, I saw three hardcover works in one section, face out, bearing her name. She helps set the tone and the agenda, with a vitriol toward "liberals" that is almost indecent. In her mind "liberals" are traitors, have no right to participate in public discourse, and represent all that she personally (at least in print) deplores. (Shakespeare was so good with one-liners: "Methinks she doth protest too much" may apply here?)

Here's the latest from the doyenne of thoughtful prose. She was commenting on Jeff Gannon debacle. He's the prostitute, on the Texas GOP payroll, who for years was given a press pass to White House press conferences, planted to ask "softball" questions when the going got rough for President Bush or his pressman. He got that press pass under a false name and despite having no legitimate press credentials. But apparently no conservatives, who would have sought a special prosecutor had such a think happened six years ago, think it any big matter. (Apparently, either it was agreed that gay prostitutes in the press room are OK even if gay partners are not OK or it doesn't matter that the FBI screeners -- the same ones who will not clear Maureen Dowd of the New York Times for a pass -- were so incompetent.)

Well, of course, Ann Coulter couldn't restrain herself from commenting. Here's what she said, in dismissing Gannon-gate: "Press passes can't be that hard to come by if the White House allows that old Arab Helen Thomas to sit within yards of the president. " There's insight into conservative values and thoughtfulness for you.

Helen Thomas has been a journalist for 60 years. She has covered every president from Kennedy on. She has always been careful, respectful, rarely (but occasionally) confrontational, and highly respected and esteemed among professional journalists. Yet that "old Arab" is of lower quality than the Right's male escort, according to Ann Coulter. Racism, slander, shamelessness -- Coulter gets away with it.

And she gets away with it not just among her fellow-travelers, but in the population at large. Except for the American Progress Action Fund and the Minneapolis StarTribune (which reported the APAF's item detailing this outrage), no medium has covered it (at least as I've been able to discover). And that's a scary prospect.

Helen Thomas is Lebanese, I understand. By Coulter's shorthand, that makes her an "Arab" and, automatically, an incipient terrorist suspect. And we all know that -- and shrug. And we Christians -- and Jews -- shrug even though it is an egregious example of bearing false witness and killing (for it incites hatred, which can lead to murder) and probably coveting (because, apparently, Coulter couldn't make it in real journalism). And we Christians -- and Jews -- shrug even though represents exactly the kind of racial vilification that helped "keep Jews in their place" for centuries. (Imagine if someone were to refer to Norman Podhoretz as "that old Jew" or Daniel Pipes as "that cruel Jew"!) And we Christians shrug even though we claim that the Good News overcomes racial, ethnic, genetic, gender and all other divisions.

Words can kill. But words can also make alive. In the absence of an active "loyal opposition" to this "right-wing" cant, it may be incumbent on church people to confirm the right's worst characterization and to stand up for those who are vilified, to call racism where it appears, to discredit smarmy intendre (double or not).

I could discredit left-wing excesses (and probably just as easily as spotting those from the right). I don't condone them. But my sense is that the left has less influence in capturing language and, thereby, thought than has the right wing. For that reason, I jump in on their side.

Besides, it's simply utterly ugly form to slur a really decent, hard-working, capable little old lady. (And if that doesn't prove that I'm above being "politically correct," nothing will.)