Friday, September 19, 2008


In introducing their book on the Eucharist, Andrea Bieler and Luise Schottroff claim that the book "is about people who juxtapose in odd, sharp, and sometimes painful ways the texts of reality with the living traditions of the Christian faith that embody resurrection hope" (The Eucharist: Bodies, Bread & Resurrection, p. 3, emphasis added). I think they already fail to understand the Eucharist in a fundamental way. The "living traditions of the Christian faith that embody resurrection hope" are the texts of reality for the Eucharistic community. Tales, sagas, philosophies of death and sorrow are not the texts of reality for the Christian family. And it is precisely the point of Eucharist to act that basic assertion.

Now I suppose that the authors may not mean their statement in any ontologically or linguistically significant way. Perhaps they mean "texts of day-to-day experience" instead of "texts of reality." If so, one wishes that theology professors and their editors would practice the kind of precision in their writing and thinking that that they usually require of those who criticize their work! But to the point: It is the easy acceptance of alternative realities as "reality" that makes the Christian witness so ineffective, so incomprehensible to so many, so rejectable today.

My reading of Stringfellow, Bonhoeffer, Hauerwas, Hart, Cavanaugh (and recently Brueggemann) convinces me that we need to be more straightforward about a troubling truth about Christianity: Our theology implies a kind of temporary and incomplete dualism. Hart makes this point explicit in his The Doors of the Sea. And Stringfellow, I think, must assume it with his discussion (which inspired Walter Wink's) of the powers and principalities that battle against the intentions and works of God. There are powers, principalities, thought patterns, ways of living, problems, forces that work to thwart the creating-redeeming-sustaining work of God. They are called minions of Satan; they are "not of God"; they are death-dealing and -inducing. And they make life damned unpleasant. They exist in that they can work effects, but they have no ultimate existence and they have no power to win ultimate struggles. In fact, they have already been defeated. (Talk of "dualism" is not something with which I am very comfortable or very eloquent. But if one is to wrestle with "powers and principalities" language -- which I think is critical for Christians to do, with an eye to the widest possible scope of the topic -- then I think we have no choice but to do so.)

The powers and principalities are only partially real; they are not "reality," and their effects or their stories are not "texts of reality." They exist at all only in the absence of God (that seems to be a kind of Augustinian notion, I think, that I'm amazed I find convincing -- given my general suspicion of the man). They are real only in the effects they produce -- death, destruction, sin, alienation, and the like. And we must not discount that reality! After all, those powers and principalities took Jesus to the cross. And that was real enough, thank you.

But the story of death (which is Stringfellow's general term for those powers and principalities and all their minions) which names them and narrates the execution of Jesus is not the "text[] of reality"; the Gospel is the text of reality. Reality is that "death shall have no dominion"; reality is that Easter trumps Good Friday, Resurrection triumphed over execution, God wins out over not-God. If you want a text of reality, read the liturgy of the Eucharist.

"Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again." That is reality, not the incomplete (albeit at times horrible) minor coups of the contrary.

I would expect women who have been teaching graduate courses in eucharistic liturgy, and who emphasize in their book the eschatological dimensions of the Eucharist, to get that right.

What do you think?

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