Friday, February 29, 2008

"Atonement Metaphor" Contest

Now here's an interesting thing: Emergent Village is sponsoring an Atonement Metaphor contest. Here's your opportunity to exercise your imaginative spirit and talent to develop a visual, verbal, or other image, symbol, representation, or whatever for what happened in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ that has been dubbed "atonement."

Go to the site and learn the details. Participate. Then be sure to share your efforts here, too. After all, I don't get paid to refer you to other blogs!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Making Peace

When I was in seminary, the movement for liturgical renewal was in high gear -- and breathtaking, daring, frustrating, and liberating was that trip. I remember that, as would-be good Lutherans, my schoolmates and I debated the "logistics" of confession and absolution and that passing of the peace. These things were now up for grabs and seriousness demanded that we think seriously and reasonably about them. (Lutherans, for the most part, were not used to thinking about liturgy in anything but serious and rational terms -- something that has changed somewhat since the 70s, I think.)

Working on verses 21-26 of Matthew 5, that whole experience is running fresh in my mind. For one of the issues we tried to work through was the "placement" within the plan of the liturgy of the passing of the peace. Now, remember, we first had to get used to the idea of making peace with others in the pews! Reconciliation, to the extent that it figured in liturgy, was all "God-to-me." But once we exploded that misunderstanding and came to affirm the making of peace before partaking of the Lord's body and blood, the question -- of both theological and sociological sense -- was where to place it: Ought it to follow the general confession and absolution, which we held to belong at the beginning of the service -- really as prologue to the service? (We at Gettysburg were very well-informed, and our practice was set into print in the Lutheran Book of Worship that was published a few years after we graduated.) Or ought it to come later, closer to the actual communion itself, when it would reinforce the unity of the worshiping community? (We didn't arrive at consensus on that issue, but LBW placed it in the later position, after the sermon and before the communion.)

Reading patristic commentary on Matthew has suggested that it is proper to share or make peace as close to the actual time of communion as possible -- so the LBW and it's ragtag child, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, actually place it too early. Chrysostum, in commenting on verses 23 and 24, paraphrases Jesus and goes on to explain this way:

"Interrupt the service you are offering me," he says, "so that your love may continue. To be reconciled to your brother is to offer sacrifice to me." Yes, this is the reason Jesus did not say "after the offering" or "before the offering." Rather, precisely while the very gift is lying there, when the sacrifice is already beginning, he sends you at that precise time to be reconciled to your brother. Neither after removing nor before presenting the gift, but precisely while it lies before you, you are to run to your brother.

So those traditions that share the peace after the "consecration" and before the actual communing are on to something, eh?

The point of this is to be receptive to the teaching of Jesus: Liturgy done while one is at odds with a brother or sister is blasphemous. Hostility is the root problem that is addressed with the commandment to do no murder -- at least according to Jesus in this logion. To overcome that hostility is a reflection of the humility which is commended to His followers.

Alas, another reason to be discontent with the Lutheran worship resource! (That's an inside joke for my Lutheran fellows.)

On a related note, I have often criticized the passing of peace as a meaningless gesture, shared as it is usually with those sitting or stationed around one -- who are probably not the ones with whom we are fighting. But it has recently entered my thick skull, that the practice may not be so bad. I usually sit with my wife and daughter (except when any of us is serving the liturgy). We also sit in the same place every week (yes, Kate! I know how wrong that is.) with pretty much the same people around us. (So I'm not the only one who claims "my pew.")

And for me, anyway, the ones I find it easiest not to be reconciled to are precisely those who are closest to me. I am a critical and self-important lout, so no one who loves me can escape. For example, my wife and daughter and I find Sunday morning scheduling very stressful -- something that often results in harsh words. (I'll save the guilty party embarrassment by allowing him/her to remain anonymous.) It is powerfully important not to let that harsh word, that disappointment, that irritation to fester during the sacrifice of the mass. So, much as I hate to admit that I didn't "get it" before, I'll now share peace with people I love, knowing that I need them to signal their forgiveness of me in response to my act of repentance toward them.

Now sometimes the reconciliation doesn't hold: Animosity rears up again all too often in hotheads. But for the time of communion, it has been laid to rest. And that is an important fact.

Now to work on the bigger hatreds, too.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

And Death Shall Have No Dominion ...

And we as Christians live by that assurance, as phrased by Dylan Thomas. But there are days that one is tempted to question it. And today is another of those days. My brother in Christ, Howard Royce, died yesterday afternoon while undergoing heart surgery.

Harold was another of those utter fine and upstanding Christian men that have graced life for my family and me at Mount Olive. He was of advanced age, but he never flagged in displaying a commitment to Christ and to His Body in Minneapolis that is commendable in every sense of the term. He is one of those stalwarts -- generous with his time and attention, regular in his attendance (regardless of weather), humble and gentle in his manner -- that all us parents who raise children in the Church want them at least to see around them at liturgy. And it didn't hurt that he was a North Dakota native --a bond we shared; something he and I both crowed about quite enthusiastically.

Please, together with the rest of Mount Olive's people and me, pray for the repose of his spirit and for comfort for his wife of decades, Evelyn, and his family.

For music appropriate to end this post and to honor Howard, I refer you to the blog of my sister in Christ, where she "embeds" a Ukrainian choir singing the Kedrov setting of the Our Father (Otche Nash) in Church Slavonic. Check it out here.

Eternal rest grant, our and my brother Howard, O Lord,
And let perpetual light shine upon him.

May his memory be eternal.

Friday, February 01, 2008

"The Golden Compass" Controversy

Just a quick note today: I have watched, and listened to, with interest the brouhaha that has re-arisen over Philip Pullman's book, The Golden Compass (original British title: Northern Lights, first in the trilogy, His Dark Materials). I have only gotten around to reading the book (which, along with some of the published screeds about it's being an assault on Christianity, was loaned to me over a year ago) and I recently saw the movie. And I've got to say that I honestly don't see what the fuss is all about. The Catholic League is in apoplexy (they've even published a book to debunk the movie); the Conference of Catholic Bishops first published a highly favorable review of the movie and then withdrew it from circulation; pastors and lay people have been denouncing both book and movie, in many cases without reading or seeing either. In contrast, as I recall, Books and Culture, a Christianity Today sister, gave the movie a glowing review, while also acknowledging the criticism in the air.

The movie is as innocuous a flick as I've seen in a long time. Some of my friends disagree with me, and I know that the producers sort of suggest that they toned down the atheistic themes of the book, but I think that the assault on the Magisterium (which many take to be the equivalent of the Christian Church or at least the Roman Catholic Church) is much more direct in the movie than in the book. (In a deliciously ironic twist, Derek Jacobi, of "Cadfael" fame, plays the "Magisterial Emissary" -- a kind of Grand Inquisitor of the movie. I wonder whether that casting was coincidental.) But even then, however, it's an assault on a magisterial group (which according to the book has been "reformed" and moved from Rome to Geneva, where Pope John Calvin presides) that is cruel, self-protecting, evil, dishonest, and all the other things that Luther claimed was true of the Magisterium in his day. The movie even changes some of the events from how they play out in the book to emphasize the evil of the Magisterium - e.g., it has a Magisterium weasel try to poison Asriel, whereas the book has the Head Master try to do so (which makes sense, given how the movie goofs around with the book's ending). But even if my view of the film is correct, it's still a sortie rather than a full-out assault.

The book is structured in a more sophisticated way, but it is still an easy read. (The reading level, after all, is a mere 5.6 -- which means that the majority of USAmericans ought to be able to read and understand most of it.) I found it quite thrilling at times, and I'm impressed with Pullman's ability to establish beyond question the intimacy of the attachment between person and daemon that he does. I think the daemon is one of the most clever creations I've read lately, and making that work is essential to creating the horror of "incision"(After reading the book, I want my own daemon. And what's with the movie's pronouncing "daemon" -- with the a and e overlapping, which this program won't accommodate -- as "dee-mon" and not as "dai-mone" or "day-mone" or even "dee-mone" -- when "demon" raises all the wrong connotations?)

I acknowledge that there are very short diatribes and jabs at religion -- which, because of other references, one can take to be Christian religion. And the Magisterium (rarely, if ever referenced as "the Church") does cause problems throughout the book both through its intention of eliminating the influence of the mysterious "Dust" and by the carnality of its servants. But I watched in vain for any sort of drawn out attack on the Christian Church that might translate into contemporary terms and situations. Instead, I found a sustained, curiously "human" (given the fact that the action takes place in a parallel universe with all sorts of un-earthly phenomenon) tone to the tome.

If I found the atmosphere to be more "human" and charming than the Narnia Chronicles, it may be due to the backgrounds of the two authors -- an Oxford-trained children's-book author versus a Cambridge don. But I also found Pullman to be less obvious a pedant for his personal perspectives on life, the divine, and the like than is Lewis. (Sorry to confess, I have never been able to read all the way through the Chronicles.)

And finally, lest I be misunderstood and be taken for being even more obtuse than I am, I fully acknowledge that the Pullman book (perhaps the series) does indeed promote independence, self-awareness, free and critical thought. (If these are counter to the Christian tradition, then we're in trouble from the beginning. It is only when free will is freely turned to obedience to God that faith exists.) But it also promotes resistance to evil, commitment and love, compassion for one's fellows, courage, problem-solving, service, and self-sacrifice -- and these are qualities that I do not discourage in my daughter. If that somehow undermines her commitment to the Christian Church, then there is more wrong than her reading this book!