Thank you to those of you good friends who check back for my ramblings. I have not been loyal to the blog, even though I have about 60 posts running in my head. The fact is that I have been busy: I have taken a short-term second job as a contract lawyer, and my time is filled with that work (not to mention the interminable demands for chauffering raised by my 14-year-old daugher!). In addition, my laptop died (again?) so that my time to ruminate online is restricted by the need to share the two remaining laptops in our home. (I'm hoping against hope that mine can be revived -- especially since we're now a wireless household and I can take the thing into the backyard and putz on it while enjoying nature's splendor.)
I'm in process of reading Cross Examinations: Readings on the Meaning of the Cross Today, edited by Marit Trelstad (who teaches at PLU). Much of the first section of the book deals with feminist/womanist critiques of "the cross". Now I'm not sure what they mean by "the cross" -- keeping in mind Juergen Moltmann's observation, "At the beginning of Christianity there are two crosses: One is a real cross, the other a symbol." The feminist/womanist scholars (and I'm only slowly getting a handle on the term "womanist") object that the cross has been used to justify a kind of passivity in the face of suffering that has led women to accept abuse, marginalization, low self-esteem, and the rest of the gamut of well-known issues.
Reading some of the essays raises for me the age-old (and utterly contemporary) question of the place of experience in theology. I have raised the ire of many of my friends who are women by suggesting -- no, insisting -- that God's name "Father" is non-negotiable. Despite the bad things that "fathers" have done, that experience in no way changes the biblical witness (a) that Jesus said to call on God as "Father," thus establishing "Father" as a name and not as a metaphor, and (b) that fathers are to be evaluated by the standards of love and benevolence of the Heavenly Father and not the other way around. Most of the feminists I read in the Trelstad book operate from a rather standard epistemology that posits experience first and doctrine second. That means that I develop doctrine -- and I argue, twist the biblical narrative -- to fit my experience. (Please be aware that I don't claim that approach is unique to feminists of any age: It has been a rather stock approach to the treatment of theology throughout the life of the Church. On a less significant level, Constantine finally gives the church legitimacy in the Empire and so the leaders of the Church -- which has a more concrete structure than it had before -- start dressing like leaders of the Empire. Of course, they also began to adopt more and more of the "leadership" mentality -- a development not unproblematic in our own time!)
In response, I want briefly to sound one tone, which I hope to meditate on more systematically over time. I was brought to this insight by my friend, C, who has flown the Lutheran coop -- something she thought she'd never do. (We'd discussed this in the past: Her husband and children are Orthodox, but she couldn't leave "Bach" behind. Well, she discovered that her misgivings were promptings of the Spirit. So after an appopriate period of discernment, she was christmated and is NOW -- a previous oversight had this read: "not" and that is most certainly not the case; she is as happy as clam there -- happily ensconced in the congregation that is the proud guardian of the icon I reference in my previous post.)
C has helped to see that "submission" is of the essence of Christian faith. Before anything else, the call of the Gospel is "Submit to God." From what I can tell, all of Lutheran theology has been aptly summarized by the phrase, "Let God be God!" (Thank you, Watson.) In fact, all of theology gets at that call. What got Adam and Eve in trouble? It was the failure to live securely in life given them by God. They felt the need for self-assertion; it overruled the very clear mandate from the Creator to submit to his rule and avoid the one -- only one -- tree. "Repent and believe the Gospel" is a call to submit to the judgment of God. It happens to be a gracious, forgiving, reconciling judgment. But the only way to appropriate that judgment is to submit to the jurisdiction of the Heavenly Judge. (See how I work my legal and theological training together.)
What does it mean to submit or to be submissive? I think that's an important question. I've raised it here in one or another context -- e.g., arguing that gay people must submit their own senses of justice and vocation to the discernment of the Church, which functions by virtue of the Holy Spirit, while praying for a more acute perception by the Church on the issue of same-sex relationships. But it is more than a question; it is a fundamental approach to the life of faith.
I hope to continue to talk things over with C because she has given me the "watchword" by which I can summarize my view of faith: submission. We will discover, I think, that to be submissive is not necessarily to be meek, passive, wallflower-ish, "non-agential" (to quote the nasty neologism formulated by the womanist scholars). But it is to acknowledge that one's will or one's experience or one's desires or one's "agency" is not the determining factor around which Christian faith revolves. The priority of the will of God is the sine qua non of Christian faith. Fortunately for us, that will is a benevolent, saving, reconciling, strengthening, upholding will. That's what makes the Gospel "good news."
In a future post, I intend to deal with Paul Althaus' The Divine Command (from 1966 -- a classic!) in which he distinguishes between God's command and "law" (in what he argues is the Lutheran sense of the term). Thus, the Ten Commandments are not "law" in the Lutheran sense (in fact, I have also learned from another source that Luther never once referred to the Commandments as "law"); instead they are the expression of God's intent for the Creation to which all creatures are called and from which no creatures are released. By my reading (and as I have claimed in talks I've given on the Ten Commandments -- delivered before I read Althaus), the Ten Commandments are a distillation of the will of God according to which we are summoned to live in freedom. In other words, they are indications of how to live the saved life we are offered. The life of faith is submission, inter alia, to life according to the commandments. But more on the Althaus later.
For now, I shall try to pay closer attention to this enterprise and to respond to any comments you make. I'll offer more on the meaning of submission (and on both the Trelstad collection and the Althaus monograph). Give me feedback.
Peace to you.
I SHALL NOT DIE, for I am within the Life. I have the whole of life springing up as a fountain within me. -- St. Symeon the New Theologian.