Friday, December 30, 2005
So I've just finished Anne Rice's first novel about Jesus, entitled Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. If you didn't know already, Rice, author of many very successful books about vampires (Interview with the Vampire being perhaps most famous), has abandoned the dark world in favor of her newly rediscovered faith in Christianity, and is writing a cycle of novels about Jesus' life from his first-person perspective. Ambitious, yet successful, at least in this first book which covers his family's departure from Egypt back to Nazareth, and the boy Jesus' quest to understand the circumstances surrounding his birth and the strange powers he seems to possess.
Rice is a voracious historian, and her research shows in the novel. I recommend doing something I didn't: read her Author's Note at the end of the book first. You will gain a great appreciation for the work that went into writing the novel, as well as her journey to rediscovering her own faith through it. She undertakes her task with all the seriousness and scholarship of the best in New Testament studies, while giving a strong argument for the direction of her book (which is pretty much orthodox Catholic belief about Jesus and his family). Plus she loves N.T. Wright, so how can we not love her?
I was thinking how in Dogma, Alan Rickman’s character, an angel, talks about how he was the one sent to the boy Jesus to tell him of his divine parentage, and how we don’t hear anything from boyhood through adulthood because it took the man that long to deal with the news. Anne Rice’s Jesus is more confident of his calling, more self-assured. He is more like one would imagine the actual Son of God to be.
Rice’s Jesus senses the pain and hurt in the world about him, and intuitively senses people’s needs even as he delights them with love. He is deeply aware of the natural world and the supernatural elements beyond it. He is a philosopher and a scholar, even at age 7. He amazes his teachers – he is smart, as Dallas Willard tells us we must believe if we are to truly be Christ's followers.
He is the Jesus of the gospels, but more than that. The book actually illuminates the Scripture. I could believe this child would grow into the Christ. Although he has fear, he also has assurance – and he never doubts. He knows God is with him always. Even as he is figuring out who he is, he knows already. Somehow his search for meaning helps us to understand his dual nature - not an easy feat but accomplished by Ms. Rice.
It’s a devout book, a faith-filled story. Of course it may not be all biblically accurate, but it is fiction, after all. I enjoyed it because of the ways it got me thinking anew about stories I've heard so many times, and the clever things I had never thought of before where Rice's faith clearly comes into play (e.g. she has James be Jesus' brother because he is Joseph's son from a previous marriage - well that makes perfect sense to me, and it allows Rice and millions of Catholics to keep their Virgin Mary. I thought that was rather a creative way to solve the problem and still have Jesus and James be brothers).
It’s a fast, enjoyable read, and there’s much to learn about history and cultural context. It added to my knowledge and enlightened my understanding of the person Jesus. I recommend it heartily.
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
I've already mentioned how wonderful church was that morning, and the afternoon of cleaning and cooking was a whirlwind but eventually we got down to the main event of eating. This was our menu, prepared by my husband, who refuses any help in the kitchen with cooking or cleaning (I know, I'm really lucky):
Pomosa: Cristalino Brut Cava, Spain with fresh pomegranate juice
Asparagus & strawberries with balsamic cream cheese; herb-rolled smoked sausage; truffle tiles
Chicken liver mousse on tiny toast
Acacia 2004 Chardonnay, Carneros
Shrimp bisque with brandy and sherry
Domecq Amontillado, Spain
Green apple and butternut squash casserole
Louis Jadot 2004 Beaujolais-Villages, Burgundy
Muscovy duck in a sauce of fig & port with star anise
Salad of pomegranates, green beans, jicama and walnuts
Selection of Stilton, Gruyere, and Camembert with mission figs
Casa de la Ermita Monastrell 2004, Spain
Pumpkin cheesecake and Christmas Cookies
Café et Porto
Yummy! I was just finishing off the bisque today...heaven! Of course, following all this we had egg nog, dark chocolate, and sat around smoking apricot tobacco in my neighbors' authentic mosque-purchased hookah. It was a sweet way to end the evening! A good new tradition too...although let me tell you, when I sent photos to our parents, they were none too happy. They both immediately called to ensure we weren't doing anything illegal nor getting addicted or anything like that. Ah, parents.
Anyway I've just been chilling since then. We could barely move the day after, from hangovers and sheer exhaustion. Yesterday we went to the Getty museum then got stuck in one of those freak LA traffic jams in which it takes 1/2 hour to go 1 mile. It took 2 hours to get home from a place about 20 miles away. That's painful.
So today I'm still in my jammies at 3:31 pm so it looks like things will stay this way. Although J just took a shower, so perhaps we'll be going out. I gave him a gift cert to a great ice cream store in town - maybe we'll have ice cream for dinner. A nice change from the cheesecake, which has been dinner the last couple nights. Ah, leftovers.
I can't believe school starts again in one week! I need to start working on homework. But I'm totally engaged in Living Buddha, Living Christ and Anne Rice's Christ the Lord right now. Plus I'm enjoying my movies so much. This is a rather long break, but I'll tell you, I'm not remotely bored yet. I'm not ready to go back to school, for once in my life. I really want to stay on vacation! I must be overly tired.
Okay, I'm going to go. Too much fun stuff to do before I have to get back to business.
Monday, December 26, 2005
The sermon was outstanding, and I've gotten a copy of it. Although it's best heard with my preacher's wonderful intonations and resonant bass voice, you can get the idea. If you'd rather listen, it will be here in a couple of days.
Christmas Day Sermon by Gabriel Ferrer
[Gabri opened with a weather report for the benefit of those listening from colder parts of the country - yesterday it was cool in the morning with high clouds followed by blue, sunny skies and a high in the low to mid 70's. It was perfection.]
This morning, I'm going to give you the BEST Christmas present any preacher can give to a congregation: A TWO MINUTE SERMON.
Because, this morning, more than almost any other Sunday morning except perhaps Easter, the sermon is the Liturgy. It is the lyrics we sing and the words we read: Of the Ancient Logos, the Life of Humankind, Light, SHINING ON in darkness - a darkness that CANNOT overcome it. About that Word becoming FLESH and dwelling AMONG US - filled with enduring and everlasting LOVE. Of Bread, blessed and broken and taken and eaten - Bethlehem: literally: HOUSE OF BREAD. Nourishment and Sustenance and Life. The sermon is THERE.
Many years ago, the English poet W.H. Auden sent out his yearly Christmas card, with the words of this Carol on the front:
Tomorrow shall be my dancing day. I would my true love did so chance To see the legend of my play, To call my true love to my dance. Singing, O my love, O my love, my love, my love. This have I done for my true love. In a manger laid and wrapped I was, So very poor, this was my chance, Betwixt an ox and a silly poor ass, To call my true love to my dance.
On the inside, Auden wrote this:
Christmas is an ancient feast of frivolity (the Puritans forbade it) and this Carol seems to have caught that spirit. If we wish you a playful, dancing, merry Christmas, our intention is not the hope that you will find some rough mockery of the ecstasy, the pattern, the joy and the grace of the Ancient Dance in the frenzied days - the harried attempts to make sense of our lives - the half-guilty celebrations, the stilted human relationships which mark our fasts and fill our days. It is rather the hope - that you may perceive the legend of God's play: "This have I done for my true love" and that the festival of unsparing munificence will strengthen and deepen the elements of the Dance in your life: love and forgiveness and mystery and harmony and grace and attention and wonder and jubilation and praise and bodiliness and freedom and a pas de deux - spontaneously discovered for a few moments or labored out over faithful years. In this year of the plod and march of technology and war, of our own plod and march, we wish you the Dance of the Word of God. Now he shares our poverty - and there is an chance. I know nothing, except what everyone knows: if there when Grace dances - I should dance.
As the Ancient Prayer dating back from the 3rd C. says:
This day true peace has come down to us from heaven, this day the heavens drip honey upon the entire world. This day brought the dawn of new redemption, of the deliverance announced of old, of eternal happiness. Wonderful the dignity you bestowed O God, on human nature when you created it; more wonderful still its condition when you recreated it - as Jesus Christ stooped to share our human nature, so that we may share the lot of his divine nature. Let us dance with delight in the Lord and let our hearts be filled with rejoicing, for eternal salvation has appeared on the earth, alleluia.
A Playful, Dancing, Merry Christmas to you all!
Saturday, December 24, 2005
But this topic brings up one of our favorite naughty traditions this time of year. One day each December we get the card from J's grandma, and we let out a cheer and settle down to read it together.
Why does her letter bring us so much joy? Well, Grandma is one of these people, and you probably know some too, who cannot resist filling her letters with every imaginable ailment and detailed bodily function. We noticed this in particular a few years back, when we started getting health news written in our birthday cards. It would be: "Happy Birthday. My shingles have been acting up. Love, Grandma." It got to where we'd be so full of anticipation that any little mention of her or her husband's health would send us into fits of giggles. Usually it is all we ever hear about them.
We had a close call a year or two ago, when the Christmas letter opened with "we haven't had any health problems this year to speak of." Oh no! Would this be yet another boring normal letter? But Grandma did not disappoint. She filled two pages with tales of everyone else in the family's health problems! I mean, it wouldn't be Christmas without a couple visits to the hospital and some fainting.
So in the spirit of sharing this season, I thought I'd give you some of this year's letter for your amusement:
"MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL
"The time is here to either get this letter going or forget it altogether. So I'm trying...I'm trying!!!
"Most of the year was filled with trips to the Doctor (for me mostly) or recuperating from the trips. I still fought with the diarrhea, but think I have it under control for the time being. I had a chunk of my scalp removed because it was malignant. I got back in a few months for a check up. It seems to be doing okay, tho.
(family birthdays, graduations, illnesses, and deaths for several paragraphs - nobody is ever completely healthy, you know)
"[At Macinac Island] Frank got sick on the trip and we had to take him to the emergency room in Michigan. He had pneumonia, but was able to continue the trip after being dismissed at midnight. We had gone in at 8 P.M, [sic] They discovered blood in his urine so after several tests here, he was sent to a urologist who has him scheduled for a bladder scope on the 29th of Dec. Melani has invited me to a 'Teddy Bear' tea on the 17th. That should be fun."
And so on. I don't repeat this to be mean or anything, I just find it amusing that for many people, this is the most important stuff they have to write about in any given year. Maybe I'm just spoiled or lucky or impossibly optimistic, but when I write letters I like them to induce smiles not vomiting.
Maybe I'm being too much of a jerk. She is at an age where many obsess about their health. It's just quite amusing when it builds up over time. I wish I'd kept others. I'm going to from now on. It will be like a little chronicle of their demise.
I'd better go wake J up now. We went to lunch at the Souplantation but it seems to have upset my system. Nothing like the other night when we had the pork, though. Whew!
Oh, forget it, I can't even try it. She's the all-time master.
Friday, December 23, 2005
It was pleasant enough, but afterwards, we found ourselves going over everything annoying about it. For me, that was the music (so trite!) and the lion, who I thought looked completely fake. The other animals, especially the beavers, looked good, but I didn't buy Aslan for a minute. Did they even look at a real lion??
J hated the acting (except Tilda Swinton, who was fabulous) and generally thought it was boring, although he admitted he finds the book boring as well. Ah well.
Oh, but some happy Christmas news: my dad got a job! He's an admissions counselor for a small liberal arts school near my folks' home. It doesn't pay great - my mom will have to keep working two jobs - but it's a nice boost for his ego. And I've found that jobs in higher ed turn over quickly and to have a foot in the door is all you need to move around within the institution to find the job you love.
The church is still being awful about the house. Emailed them at 11 last night (2 days before Christmas!) to tell them they'd upped the price (again) and it's now way out of their price range, as well as rejecting their requests for more time to figure out what to do because they want to put their interim pastor in the house. Oh, yeah, that guy from the company that started this whole thing. Don't get me going.
So they now have been told to either take this offer which has inflated tremendously or get out pronto. Nice church. Maybe best for the people of God not to get into real estate. Too tempting.
Anyway, I probably won't write again until after the festival of the incarnation, so may it be blessed for you!
Thursday, December 22, 2005
"It's the old pagan thing, really. This is the midwinter festival and the Church, very early on, latched onto the idea that it was good to have a festival in midwinter, but that they had a better story to tell. And that's still true."
And here is another good quote, about the Church in general. I resonated with this strongly because I spent the morning talking about a church plant with one of our priests, and then rehashed an old argument all afternoon with J about whether church should adapt to culture or vice versa. Whatever...this puts things in perspective...although those arguments are important to have.
"The central things for me, what I want to witness to, that the Church doesn't exist because we've decided that it will, because we like the idea, because we get on with each other - it exists because of God. So everything in the church has to begin and end in the worship and praise of God.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, is more important than that.
And the most important form that takes for a Christian, is gratitude. Something extraordinary has happened to us, something has overtaken us, something we could never have expected. Back to Narnia again, really. What happens is a surprise. The winter breaks, the weather changes.
So, that's at the very heart of everything, and that, I think, ought to put a little bit into perspective our absolute passion for trying to get everything right at every point. We have to try. We make mistakes. And there is always a God great enough to pick up the pieces and give us a fresh start."
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
The conversation everywhere seems to be focused on whether or not we should have church on Christmas, especially if we have already had Christmas services on Christmas Eve. I think there could be a good case to be made that, on the Christian calendar, to have BOTH Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services is liturgically redundant.
This is my knee-jerk response:
I think it's mistaken to say that it's liturgically redundant to have services both days. That doesn't bode well for the creativity of the church! Surely we can think of more than one service's worth of ways to celebrate the coming of Jesus, the incarnation of the living God, the children's understanding of these events, the way the world changed, the second coming, the culmination of advent...
My church already has two very different kinds of services (two of each) on Christmas Eve: a pageant for kids and a solemn eucharist. And they do another service on the Day, although as I've admitted elsewhere, I haven't been to it (probably a normal Rite II Eucharist). Surely there are more ways to celebrate. If it would be redundant in a church to do services both days, then I have to say it's not a very creative church! :)
This goes back to the question of the importance of Christmas, of this festival of the Incarnation. If we truly gave it the significance it is due in our lives (and on the Church calendar), seems like we'd be doing it up a lot bigger - thinking of many ways of celebrating the multiple facets of the festival. There is so much going on at Christmas. We are missing a lot, I fear. Wouldn't it be fun to do services all the twelve days that look at different parts of the event? One could be about the different songs we sing, one about the historical situation of the birth, one about theological ideas regarding incarnation (in other religions, too), etc., etc. Maybe this is more of a Sunday School class, I don't know. I want us to think outside the box when planning our services!
If you go back to my post about whether to hold communion at both services, you'll see my liturgy prof's response, which I think is well-said. Also, he points out the tradition of doing thirteen pontifical masses over the Christmas holiday. If the pope, a rather busy guy, can find the time and strength for all that, couldn't we do two?
Anyway, I'd be very curious for your opinions on this. Is it liturgically redundant to celebrate both days? Do we need new liturgies written? Those of you who do both days, what do you do differently so it's not the same service both times? Or do you just expect different audiences and provide the same product?
Monday, December 19, 2005
Second, on the summer: I'm still considering what to do with myself. I need to get out and help someone somewhere. Not to supplant, but to supplement, my education. I don't need to leave Fuller and I know I'm being well-trained there. I wouldn't give up this wonderful season of seminary for anything - it's a glorious respite from the real world. In fact, like J, I may just retreat into academia forever.
But first, I need to get my ass out there and work a little bit among the people. So I continue to pray about where to go and what to do. I haven't applied for CPT yet - not because of the kidnappings, although that was disturbing (no update last I checked, although the deadline passed), but because the timing isn't all that perfect. It would be better for me to go when school's not in session, 2-3 weeks in either June or September. Plus, my original desire, you may recall, was for Africa. Well, I have a friend who's from South Africa and is well-connected there (she was actually ordained by Desmond Tutu, I think), so I've asked her if she knows anyone who could use my help. Perhaps J and I could even go as a team. And I've recently learned that my mother wants to tithe on her inheritance, and this may be a viable way for her to do so (at least I think so, I have to ask her), supporting me as a short-termer.
There are also always my friends in PNG, who it would be amazing to go work with (they work in ethnomusicology and worship studies), but they're coming home on furlough in a few months! Have to do that one later.
So we'll see. Please pray for me.
Final Update, on Christmas services (to be or not to be):
Well, a very interesting discussion is going on in the comments section - check it out. Here is my take on it, and you can all tear me a new one.
My dad was also a pastor, and when we'd get snowed in and couldn't have Christmas eve service, we all breathed a sigh of relief. We never had Christmas day service (but I don't remember what, if anything, we did on a Christmas Sunday). It seems pretty normal for churches to do it up on the Eve and leave the Day to the families.
But I think we might be wrong about this. I understand, believe me, the ministers who've written in saying they want that day off because they are pooped (my church does four Christmas eve services!). I understand the people who want to be with family because that's what the holiday is about for them. I understand the sentiment that one can worship and celebrate Jesus' birth anywhere, not only in church. But I disagree.
I actually think that if we are going to be the authentic church of Jesus Christ, we need to make his birth one of our hugest festivals of the year - only second to Easter (and who'd cancel services on Easter??). Because frankly, it's up there for the most important moment in history - the incarnation, many Christians believe, was the turning point, not the crucifixion/resurrection. But either way, we can all agree it was terribly important.
We need to let go of our biases about it being a day of family, a day of presents, a day of celebrating peace and goodwill. Guys, it's a festival celebrating the most holy of occasions: the incarnation of the living God. It's not about us at all, remotely. It's a day when we should be coming before the throne with fear and trembling, not able to fathom what great love caused this God to do this thing for us.
So I am sorry that it is inconvenient, tiring, and anti-family. But it's Christian. Jesus didn't want us to spend time with our families. Jesus did plenty of great work while he was exhausted. Jesus freaking incarnated. What are we doing with our little manger scenes and children in bathrobes and bad music?? Are we nuts? Do we even realize what we are playing at???
I think a step towards the solution is to cut out all this Christmas Eve worship. We have capitulated way too much to the idea that the festival is on the Eve. Now granted, the Easter Vigil is also a great Eve festival, and in my church at least, it totally kicks Easter Day's ass. But there's got to be balance. For all the anticipation of the Eve and the Vigil, we need the hugest celebration for the Day of our joy! Celebration and righteous awe. Not "Aw, aren't they cute?" But fall-on-your-face dumbstruckness before a God who would enter a womb and live as a human and let us kill him. How did God become a fetus? It's incredible.
Last night on the Simpson's, the first story was actually really funny and cute. It was the Christmas story (sort of). And one great line stuck out: Marge (as Mary) told Homer (Joseph) that the baby (Bart as Jesus) cried every time someone suffered in the world. So he was always crying!
Wow. What a great moment, in a cartoon of all places! We should get it so well.
And I get that historically it wasn't always a big deal. But come on - that's a lame excuse. We need to be always evolving as a church, not just saying something was invented late therefore we don't have to use it. Powerpoint was pretty recently invented, yet it's revolutionized preaching - for visual learners, it's been a huge improvement. The church starting up the Christmas service in the 4th century was a good thing. The early church didn't do everything right and perfect! What a static view of history that would be. We must believe that God's been working over these 2000 years, and where we've come to now is an okay place to be. Let's not always appeal to history as our guide. Let's appeal to right now and what God's doing with God's church for the future.
I hate to rain on everyone's parade, but Christmas isn't about you, or your family, or your kids, or your rest, or your peace, or your goodwill. It is about what God did for us. So suck it up. Quit whining. Cancel a few Christmas Eve services and punch up Christmas Day. So nobody comes for a few years. Takes time to change a culture, especially a church subculture. We've got to change the meaning of Christmas entirely. That's going to take a lot of work and time and commitment from otherwise overrun and overworked clergy. But that is what we signed up for as Christians - to change the world. Let's start in our own congregations.
Let's get Christmas back - for what it truly is supposed to be. This may be an entirely new thing, an entirely new idea. But I believe God inspires such. What if we all believed?
Saturday, December 17, 2005
So now J is driving all over town trying to find a book about drive cycles for our car, and if that fails, we'll have to take it to a dealer and see if they can tell us what the drive cycles are. Oh, a drive cycle is a particular set of ways you have to drive the car to reset the little monitors. And it's not a common way of driving (which is why, after about 5,000 miles, ours still haven't reset - on our car, they are extremely picky. The mechanic told us to just "drive around" for 100 miles - uh, uh, doesn't work that way - trying it that way is like mashing your keyboard with your fists and expecting to turn out the works of Shakespeare.). We have to find a place where we can do something like this: drive 60 mph for 60 seconds then slow to 40 mph for 2 minutes then repeat 6 times. If you drop below 36 mph you have to start over. Or this: let car idle until coolant reaches 180 degrees farenheit then drive 40 mph for 2 minutes.
Anybody have a race track or back country road we can use?
Is this not the most ridiculous thing you've ever heard of? I can't fathom who would have thought this was a good idea. It's supposed to keep people from messing with the emissions sensors, but I think it's giving a lot of grief to honest regular people for no reason.
Moral of the story: if you have to change your battery, and your car was built after 1996, it has an OBDII system in it, and you have to have a dealer change the battery, or you will not be able to pass smog checks in the future.
A few hours ago I didn't even know what an OBDII was (or a drive cycle or a Cat, O2 or Evap monitor were). This sucks. Everything always happens to us!
Friday, December 16, 2005
How does this make any sense at all? As if Christmas falling on a Sunday made it less of a day to be in church celebrating?
According to the closing churches, they are giving people the "day off" to be with their families, where, and I swear I'm not making this up, the real celebration of Christmas takes place. Christmas, if you didn't realize, is about being around a tree (opening gifts and stuffing our faces) with family and loved ones.
Oh, shit, I thought it was about God becoming human. I must be so confused. Is that Hannukah, then?
This is one more way the Evangelical subculture has supplanted Christianity with American values. How on earth can one believe that our faith is about spending time with family rather than with God? The New Testament (the whole Bible, really) has crappy family values, people. It's not about the people who birthed us. It's about the Church.
But of course, if you only have a "personal relationship" with Jesus, why would you need a body of people to celebrate anything with?
Ugh. This is so incredibly stupid.
Of course, will I be going to church on Christmas Sunday?
dunno, am throwing a party...
Ironically, the "beauty" of my title was King Kong, a film about a giant beast. But truly, a poetic masterpiece. Despite being a full three hours it was absolutely entertaining and engaging for every moment. After the film I felt similar to after I'd seen Jurassic Park for the first time, although that's completely not fair, because it's so much more than that film was even trying to be. Some are comparing it to Titanic, which is true in the epic-historical-romance-tragedy sense, but again not fair, because the story and dialogue far outpace that film. In a lesser year, it could have easily won best picture, but there are too many other good films out (that I need to see!).
I don't want to tell you anything about Kong, I just want you to see it. I promise it's worth your time and money. It's such a magnificent piece of filmmaking. I left thinking that it was what movie-making is truly all about. It is a movie-lovers' movie. Not only a great action ride, but a tear-your-heart-out romance, interesting themes about our relationship with nature...oh forget it, I can't even begin to tell you everything that's in there. It's all there. Sum up: beautiful or amazing things have always made me cry. At the end of this film, after tears had been rolling down the last 20 minutes or so, I actually had to sit in the theater and sob.
Now, after all that, how could I possibly have gone out to try to see something else?
Well, I had a date with my girlfriends, so I had no choice. And besides, I was going to see some lite fare, something from which I didn't expect much but to enjoy some of my all-time favorite music: Rent.
Woo, doggy, this movie was bad. I mean, laughably so. Several times we were turning to each other and asking what the hell was going on. Or why did it just turn into a Ralph Lauren ad? Or simply giggling at the absurdity of it all. It wasn't the actors' fault, it was just horribly filmed. Which was expected. Like I said, I didn't think there'd be much to like.
However, J said it well: the music is so strong, we didn't think even terrible filmmaking could really ruin it (think Jesus Christ Superstar: sucky film, still fun to watch). However, we didn't count on them changing the music! They took this multi-layered rock opera and dumbed it down to a one-note one-plot one-dimensional-character musical. They spoke half the songs! They cut out huge swaths of plot while inexplicably adding random scenes that don't fit the story or characters at all. They missed the tone completely, especially in some of my favorite scenes (like the candle).
I suppose I deserve it, for even trying to go. But honestly it shouldn't have been that bad. They could have filmed the stage play, one camera in a theater, and it would have been way better. I'm quite disappointed. The dumbing down was just stupid. There's no reason that your audience has to get something the first time. Duh - that kills repeat business. Well, obviously, they were out to kill any possibly repeat business with this sucker, particularly from fans. I can't imagine someone who loves Jonathan Larson's musical not being quite offended by this weakly-conceived mishmash of his beautiful music and message.
So, to sum up: See Kong, don't see Rent - you're better off waiting for the play to come to town.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
"Currently in a situation at my church that sparked my interest in your opinion. Christmas day is Sunday this year. The church I attend always serves communion on Sunday Worship. However, Christmas Eve is usually communion candlelight. This year they are omitting it becuase it will be offered in 10 hours. The debates/gossip that are flying around I find only deal with the issue of "we always do it" with no theological reflection. For a Christmas Eve service, which usually draws people who only come to the church for this service each year, is it fair to argue the church should offer communion because of our vistitor's expectations? We don't want to let them down, now do we?
"If this sacrament is central to this churches services, and Christmas Eve is a service, and Sunday is also a service, should it be offered or cut out?"
So naturally I took it to my resident liturgical expert professor, and here is his answer:
"Christmas means literally the Mass celebrated in honor of Christ’s nativity, hence Christ’s Mass=Christmas. Christmas liturgically begins at sunset on December 24th. It has been a longstanding tradition to offer multiple liturgies/masses through the night. In Rome these were stational liturgies held throughout the city (including a liturgy at St Anastasia).
"You could, I suppose, celebrate a synaxis liturgy (Word only) at either Christmas Eve or Christmas, but it would presume attendance at both by all. Likewise, maybe preferably, one could hold an office of Compline as a vigil on Christmas Eve and then the Eucharist on Christmas.
"Personally I would advocate 13 straight Masses from 12/24-1/6, but of course I am a member of a religious order and that’s what the good Sisters and Brothers do—and it is glorious."
Sounds like fun, doesn't it? Anyway, if anyone else has thoughts, let's have 'em.
(is there anywhere else in America where at 9 a.m. on December 14 one can hear parrots screeching from outside one's window??)
I did everything wrong for a former insomniac: the alcohol, the nap, the not exercising. Yesterday I mostly just had beverages and of those, coffee and tea were predominant. I need some water.
Don't groan about me talking about sex. That perpetuates the myth that there's something wrong with it. I'm allowed, you know. On Sunday we sang a Martin Luther hymn and I realized I don't like all this Virgin undefiled business. It makes sex evil. Also I don't think I can much enjoy Sublime anymore, because they are masochistic. Bummer, because it's catchy stuff.
Of course the little cat is quite pleased that I'm up. She waits semi-patiently every day for one of us to rise and feed her and take a shower. She likes taking a shower, sometimes two. They are scary creatures of habit. People used to think they sucked out your soul but I think their own souls are too big to allow that.
This all came out so much cooler when I was lying in bed composing it. I was quite eloquent. I always am when I'm not at the keyboard, then I get here and just type straightforwardly.
A friend got my Anne Rice's Jesus novel for Christmas. I'm really looking forward to reading it. In fact, that might be a good thing to do with my time this morning. Anne had a conversion experience and claims she will not write another vampire novel. So she's written Jesus' life story, first-person from his point of view. Ballsy. Apparently she's pretty progressive (has a gay son so she couldn't turn Evangelical) and was converted by reading about the history of Christianity. I told J that she probably loves the resurrection - it makes the world more magical.
That would piss some people off, no? That the resurrection is part of a magic we can't understand. But I wonder if it isn't. Magic doesn't have to imply no God involvement. And the world is pretty full of unexplainables. When you think about it, Christianity's stories really fit nicely with a whole host of other mysteries in the history of the world. We all have our stories of magic. Many of them are true.
Anyway there's a story about Anne on Christianity Today.
Can someone tell me how The Squid and the Whale is a musical or comedy? I mean, I haven't seen it yet, but I find that odd from what I've heard about it.
I cannot wait to see Brokeback Mountain. But I very much doubt much of America is with me on that point. What do you think? Will it play in Peoria?
I gots to go. Need hydration. Maybe sleep. Sentences. shortening. crisco. bye.
Saturday, December 10, 2005
Letter to John and Leone on the death of their child, Abby (I did not make up these names)
Dear John and Leone,
I’ve just learned of the tragic loss of baby Abby. I am so sorry that I am not able to be with you at this time. Please know that our church family grieves with you. We can’t fully enter into your loss, but we want you to know that we love you.
...Our church was delighted to welcome her into the world, and we will take very seriously the task of releasing her into God’s loving arms.
You may be feeling angry or guilty. This is perfectly normal. You may be nagged by questions of “why” or “how.” Unfortunately, I can’t give you the answers. It was sudden and unfair, and it’s easy to point fingers at God or one another – or yourself.
You did not do anything wrong. This death, although horrible, was not preventable. As awful as it is, you mustn’t give in to any nagging doubts about your parenting abilities. You never showed anything but complete care and concern for Abby, and that obviously doesn’t change now.
Hold on to one another. You are the only two people in the world who understand how this feels right now. Lean on each other. Be kind to each other. You may mourn differently; give space when it’s needed, but also keep aware of the healing power of your spouse’s arms and voice. Cry together. Talk and listen. Grieve with all your might.
There’s no need to remove her possessions – in fact, you may find comfort in visiting the baby’s room to cry or pray. It will remind you of her, but that is not something to fear or avoid.
With the death of a baby we acutely experience the death of hope. This little life was pure potential. Now all the potential in the world has died. It's hard to trust that anything can be positive when someone so innocent is snatched away. The younger the age at which a person dies, the more we mourn the loss of “what might have been,” which resonates with our own loss of potential as we grow older.
Sometimes it feels as if God has utterly abandoned us. It’s okay to question God and doubt his goodness. It’s okay to yell at him and tell him how messed up this world is.
When he was here on earth, in Jesus, God expressed his deep sorrow at the pain and confusion of human beings. Jesus said he longed to gather us under his wings as a mother hen does her chicks. Our Mother God desires nothing more than to shelter us from life’s storms and to rescue us from danger.
God did not do this to you. God is for you and hates your pain.
Yet storms do come, and danger is everywhere. We cannot escape the pain that comes with our freedom of choice. Even when we do everything right, and love someone deeply, we can lose them. I cannot pretend it’s not terrible or tell you it will get better.
But what I can tell you is that God sent his own son into our world of grief. And Jesus felt that pain every day of his life, as he encountered people hurting, people desperate for healing. Jesus healed those he could, but of course he could not reach everyone in the world with his touch. So he submitted to death – and defeated it. God sacrificed his son so that we and our children would transcend physical death. We know that he grieved when Jesus was crucified, and that he grieves over all the atrocities done by people – especially in his name. God knows and understands grief as he knows and understands all things.
Because of Jesus’ resurrection, we know that Abby – and all of us – will also rise to eternal life. An eternal life in which we will know God completely, and love one another perfectly, and be together forever. God's good purpose for his people cannot be defeated by sin and death. The love we had for Abby was not in vain – it was given by God, who is even now pouring it out on her.
On the occasion of a similar loss, a pastor once remarked, “In the most beautiful of gardens, even those tended by the most skillful of botanists, there is an occasional rose that buds, but never opens. In all respects the rose is like all the others, but something keeps it from blooming. It fades away – or disappears – without having reached maturity. What happens in nature's garden happens once in a while also in the garden of God's human family. A baby is born, beautiful, precious, but fails to come to its rightful unfolding. This child, like the bud that never fully opens, is gathered back into God's heavenly garden of souls – where all imperfections are made perfect; all injustices made right; all mysteries are explained; and all sorrows turned to happiness.”
As Jesus himself said: “It is not the will of your Father that one of these little ones should perish.” God promises us that there will come a time when there is a new heaven and a new earth – a time when “never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years.”
But of course, that time is not yet. And so we weep, and God with us.
We must live now, even though that can be so painful that we want to end it. You may feel like dying, or no longer see the point of living. Let me assure you: what you are feeling is normal and necessary. If you think you see or hear Abby, or go looking for her in her crib, you are not acting out of the ordinary.
You may find reassurance by joining a group of others who’ve lost children to SIDS. My associate will be sending information on local groups and can give you a ride to the first meeting if you need.
May I also suggest that you turn to the Psalms, if you are looking for comfort or release? For many ages, people have found their deepest fears, doubts, rage, and pain echoed here. You will also find assurance of God’s love – and God’s awareness of your most difficult situations. Start with Psalm 13 or 86.
My prayer for you is that God will lift your hearts up to himself and fill you with his peace. God’s understanding is beyond our human comprehension, but I ask him every day to give you the knowledge and faith to endure that which you can't understand.
Heavenly Father, whose Son Jesus Christ took little children into his arms to bless them: we thank you that you gave Abby to us, even for a brief time; and we thank you that you caused our hearts to love her. We praise and bless you for the assurance that you have received her to yourself, and that you will keep her now and always.
You have taught us in your holy Word that you do not willingly afflict or grieve us: Look with pity upon the sorrows of your servants for whom our prayers are offered. We commend to you John and Leone. We lift up all the family members who have been denied the joy of seeing Abby blossom and grow in our midst.
Remember those who mourn, O Lord, in mercy, nourish their souls with patience, comfort them with a sense of your goodness, lift up your countenance upon them, and give them peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
With great love and sympathy,
Friday, December 09, 2005
Thursday, December 08, 2005
I'm done!I'm done!I'm done!I'm done!I'm done!I'm done!I'm done!I'm done!I'm done!I'm done!I'm done!I'm done!I'm done!I'm done!I'm done!I'm done!I'm done!I'm done!I'm done!I'm done!I'm done!I'm done!I'm done!I'm done!I'm done!I'm done!I'm done!I'm done!I'm done!I'm done!
Hate me if you want. But I'm done! Ha ha! Time for Christmas!!!
In my severely procrastinating state I've found a lot of interesting blogs over the last couple days. Here are some fun ones:
http://www.awfulplasticsurgery.com/ (I quite literally spent hours on here last night. Perfect for those of you with desk jobs)
Also, a couple vigils are coming up for those of you in the Pasadena area. On Monday (12/12) there's one against the death penalty on the eve of Stanley Williams planned execution. It's at All Saints Pasadena. On Wednesday (12/14) there's one at the Braley Building in support of a moral budget for the US (sponsored by Sojourners - this is national so visit sojo.net for one near you). Let's all go out and hold candles. Pray for peace.
In the Pope movie that was on ABC last week (the CBS one sucked), the leading man went to become a priest because he wanted to fight the Nazis, but he didn't believe in violence, and "this was the only way I could think of to fight." Amen.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
I hated the Passion with a passion long before it came out, because of how idiotic Christians acted about it. (and now they're calling this the passion "for kids" ... oy vey)
I'm not going to the documentary about it (screening Friday night at Fuller!) nor the discussion (Saturday night at Fuller!), nor am I reading Christian reviews. In fact, you pretty much have to swear off evangelicals all together to get out of it (not that that's such a terrible thing). Even at the church in seattle last week some woman got up during the announcements and talked about the years she'd spent waiting for the film and how she'd once sent a postcard to Disney telling them to make it. Surely she's owed some royalties.
Anyway, I say all this because I just read a secular review that I'll betcha was really fair yet would really piss off Christian fans of the book. It's worth reading with an open mind. Since the LA Times requires registration, I'm going to naughtily cut and paste it. Don't tell! I'll link to it as well, and bold my favorite bits.
Keeper of the magic
Disney's "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" stays true to C.S. Lewis' series.
By Carina Chocano, Times Staff Writer
There are several things to be grateful for in Disney's adaptation of "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," which, considering how beloved the source, comes as a relief. Most people who read the C.S. Lewis series as kids recall it with a fierce and proprietary fondness. But aside from an added prologue that kicks off the story in London and helps to ground it in a reality against which to contrast the fantasy to come, the movie remains faithful to the book in both tone and imagery. As soon as I finish this, I'll be sending thank-you notes to whomever it was that managed to avoid conforming to nervous marketers' notions of what "the kids" are into these days. Rather unbelievably — but oh so felicitously — Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) have made it onto the screen as British children (accents and all) who haven't been remotely coolified. They're starchy, polite, dressed in boiled wool and excited at the prospect of sardines on toast.
Some evangelical groups have been promoting the movie as " 'The Passion' for kids," which makes it sound potentially like a greater source of lifelong trauma than "Bambi." But the Christian allegory embedded at its chewy center serves less as evangelical cudgel than a primer on morality and the myths we create to explain it. The magical land of Narnia is a place where Western myths and religions (classical, Christian, Celtic, Norse, you name it) are jumbled together so that we may consider their similarities and uses. If it weren't for Lewis' stated intention to write a fantastical story to make the dogma go down, it might even come across as a liberal humanist parable about myth and its function in society, especially during times of trouble.
Directed by Andrew Adamson, who reminds us of his pedigree with visual allusions to "Shrek" (the giants look mighty familiar), "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" is the kind of story kids love for all the age-old reasons. It features a quartet of pseudo-orphaned London children living more or less on their own in a rambling, comfortable setting (dad is off fighting the war, mum has shipped them to the country during the Blitz), who discover a portal into an alternate universe ruled by magic.
Sent to live with an absent-minded professor (Jim Broadbent) and his grim housekeeper on an old country estate full of forgotten rooms and mysterious furniture, the children discover, one by one, that the wardrobe in the spare room leads to a land called Narnia, where, according to a prophesy, they are to inherit the throne with the help of a messianic lion named Aslan.
Lucy is the first to discover Narnia when she hides in the wardrobe during a game of hide-and-seek. Emerging from the row of coats into a snow-covered wood, she encounters a friendly faun named Mr. Tumnus (James McAvoy), who invites her over for tea. There, he fills her in on the political situation and chickens out on his intended plan: The White Witch, a dreadlocked ice queen played by Tilda Swinton, has cursed Narnia, making it always winter and never Christmas, and has instructed its inhabitants to turn over any human child to her for execution.
Next through the wardrobe is naughty Edmund, who runs into the White Witch and is lured into her camp with ample helpings of Turkish delight, which I'm told is a popular confection in England but, to an American reader in the early 1980s, sounded pretty exotic and possibly illicit. In any case, what Edmund gets is a sweet so intoxicating that it makes the boy sell out his siblings for another taste. Edmund gets hooked and spills the Aslan-related beans. When the four children find their way to Narnia soon afterward, Edmund is abducted, and Peter, Susan and Lucy team up with Aslan and his followers to save Edmund and take back the kingdom.
Narnia is a fantasy universe, featuring talking beavers, solicitous fauns, evil wolves and more chain mail and velvet than a Renaissance fair. Visually, the film stays remarkably true to the book's simple illustrations by Pauline Baynes and at the same time comes to life in a spectacularly realistic fashion. The inhabitants of Narnia run the gamut from humble rodent to mythical man-beast, and all but one (the Disneyish fox, who has eyes like shooter marbles and a smiley snout) could pass for real until they open their mouths to speak. You get the sense the paint hasn't yet dried on the technology. It's a magical world without the annoying pixie-dust "magical" tropes that make so many children's movies an exercise in condescension. What's best about it is that it seems real by the logic of childhood — it looks as things should look, if kids had it their way.
It's also governed by a child's idea of a perfect society — one that's as democratic as it is mythically hierarchical, black and white as it is idealized. Mythical creatures peaceably coexist elbow-to-hoof with woodland animals, jungle cats and humanoids in chain mail in defiance of every natural, mythical and geographical law there is. Santa Claus, witches, talking animals and a furry, benevolent Jesus figure exist on a single plane. If a scene featuring the torment and grisly execution of Aslan is meant to recall the crucifixion (the lion is eventually resurrected, thanks to the rules of the "deep magic" that governs Narnia), the other stuff cancels it out. That is, unless Christianity has lately been amended to allow for the Christ figure in pitched battle against a witch, a Minotaur and evil dwarfs (the centaur, the faun and flying wildcats are on his side), which, these days, you never know.
None of it would work so well if the children, especially Lucy and Edmund, weren't such delightfully down-to-earth types. Henley and Keynes stand out as characters who've somehow avoided being processed through the Hollywood filter of how children behave. A buck-toothed imp with a wonderfully expressive face, Henley is a marvel of assurance and charm. And Keynes, as the surly and haughty Edmund, is a perfect foil. As Peter and Susan, Moseley and Popplewell suffer from Lewis' impoverished view of grown-up boys and girls. Peter is a bit of a sap and Susan a nagging pessimist lacking in courage and conviction, a wet blanket whose moniker ends up being the flabby "Queen Susan the Gentle."
As the children gain ground against the witch, Narnia begins to thaw, and a pre-Coca-Cola St. Nick returns to hand out gifts — a sword for Peter, a bow and arrow for Susan, a dagger for Lucy. The story climaxes with a scary battle scene. No wonder that some might take it as religious instruction: It's a medieval vision of Christianity for another dark age, with the Christ figure as soldier and war as the way to make the world safe for Santa Claus. As a Christian primer, it's terrible. As a story, it's timeless.
Monday, December 05, 2005
However, there are urgent matters at hand. I think I mentioned the kidnapping of some of the members of the Iraq Christian Peacemaker Team (or if I didn't, you probably heard about it if you keep your eye/ear on the news). There's an online petition started requesting their freedom. I don't know if it will do any good, but it's worth checking out.
I have a personal stake in this. CPT is the group I'm considering joining for a trip this summer (to Hebron, not Iraq).
It's tragic that these nonviolent peacemakers have been kidnapped! Please pray for/think of them and sign the petition if you want to.
http://www.freethecpt.org - petition (scroll down for english)
http://www.cpt.org/ - more about CPT
http://electroniciraq.net/news/2212.shtml - this is a meaningful post by one of the detainees from the day before the kidnapping
Saturday, December 03, 2005
Stan "Tookie" Williams is a peacemaker on death row.
He has been nominated 5 times for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in helping to prevent gang violence.
He has been nominated four times for the Nobel Literature Prize for his children's books that warn young people about the pitfalls of joining a gang and exposes them to alternatives.
He maintains innocence of the crimes he was accused of, and faced racist discrimination throughout his trial. One issue highlighted the fact that the prosecutor in Tookie's original case removed three African-American jurors from the jury. During Stan's trial, this prosecutor made racially-coded remarks during his closing argument, comparing Stan during the trial to a Bengal tiger in the zoo and stating that a black community - South Central Los Angeles - was equivalent to the natural "habitat" of a Bengal Tiger.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Tookie on his final appeal and set his execution date for December 13. Thus they disregarded 9 of the 24 Ninth Circuit Court judges' assertion that the District Attorney at Tookie's trial employed "reprehensible and unconstitutional" racist tactics, using animal-in-a-jungle metaphors to refer to Tookie and to the South Central environment in which he lived. This landmark ruling means that minorities can now legally be rejected from juries based on race. This is now the law of the land.
Please visit www.savetookie.org and see how to get involved in the campaign to save the life of this peace activist. 1,000 executions is enough!!
The Bishops of the Church in Wales recognise that its members hold a wide range of views on a variety of ethical, social and theological matters. One such issue is the Church's approach to homosexuality. For some time, we have recognised that there are honest and legitimate differences on this subject. The church needs to engage prayerfully in this debate with humility, generosity of spirit, reflection on biblical witness, mature thought and careful listening. The harsh and condemnatory tone, which at times has coloured this debate, is unacceptable.
We uphold the traditional Anglican emphasis on Scripture read in the light of reason and tradition. We recognise that the interpretation of Scripture is in itself an area of divergence among Christians. We are at pains to emphasise the need to respect one another and remind the Church that everyone is created in the image and likeness of God. Sexuality is only one aspect of a person's humanity.
As with many issues there, exists a wide range of Scriptural interpretation within the Christian church. On same-sex relationships we acknowledge that the following fairly reflect the range of views held within the Church in Wales.
Some people, reading the Scriptures with integrity, reach the conclusion that the only proper context for sexual activity is marriage between a man and a woman in life-long union. Homosexual practice of any kind is therefore rejected.
Others, reading the Scriptures with integrity, adopt a more sympathetic understanding of homosexuality, but would not at present wish the Church to sanction homosexual practice.
Others, reading the Scriptures with integrity, conclude that orientation and practice are to be distinguished and that the Church can welcome same sex relationships provided they are celibate.
Others again, reading the Scriptures with integrity, conclude that the Church cannot dismiss as intrinsically disordered permanent and committed same-sex relationships; they believe that through their internal mutuality and support, these bring creativity, generosity and love into the lives of those within them.
Others, reading the Scriptures with integrity, conclude, in the light of a developing understanding of the nature of humanity and sexuality, that the time has arrived for the Church to affirm committed homosexual relationships.
The challenge and call of our discipleship is to live, worship and work together in all our diversity. Rejecting all forms of stigmatisation we commit ourselves to listening to people whose sexual orientation may be different from our own.
25 November 2005
Friday, December 02, 2005
There comes a time when both body and soul
enter into such a vast darkness
that one loses light and consciousness
and knows nothing more of God’s intimacy.
At such a time, when the light in the lantern burns out
the beauty of the lantern can no longer be seen.
With longing and distress we are reminded of our nothingness.
Love the nothing, flee the self.
Stand alone. Seek help from no one.
Let your being be quiet.
Be free from the bondage of all things.
Free those who are bound,
give exhortation to the free.
Care for the sick, but dwell alone.
When you drink the waters of sorrow
you shall kindle the fire of love
with the match of perseverance – this is the way
to dwell in the desert.
A reading from St. John of the Cross (speaking of the moonless night when he escaped from prison)
There in the lucky dark,
none to observe me, darkness far and wide;
no sign for me to mark,
no other light, no guide
except for my heart – the fire, the fire inside!
That led me on
True as the very noon is – truer too! –
to where there waited one
I knew – how well I know! –
in a place where no one was in view.
Two from Prof. Todd Johnson:
Throughout the centuries, in spite of our best efforts to do the work of God, the Spirit has always broken through.
The biblical metaphors for encountering God are organic. Transactional understanding - I say magic words and Jesus is either in the bread or in my heart - is not biblical.
We live as though the world were what it should be, to show it what it can be.
Angel, "Deep Down," *Angel* Season 4
"People ask, 'How can it be bad for things to come into the U.S. cheaply? How can it be bad to have a bargain at Wal-Mart?' Sure, it's held inflation down, and it's great to have bargains," says Dobbins. "But you can't buy anything if you're not employed. We are shopping ourselves out of jobs."
Steve Dobbins has been bearing the brunt of that switch. He's president and CEO of Carolina Mills, a 75-year-old North Carolina company that supplies thread, yarn, and textile finishing to apparel makers--half of which supply Wal-Mart. Dobbins's customers have begun to face imported clothing sold so cheaply to Wal-Mart that they could not compete even if they paid their workers nothing.
Meditation on Isaiah 63:16-17, 19-64:7
These lines from Isaiah are altogether too much. Any four of them would do. Take the first four. What a question to put to God! We do the wandering, we do the evil - and God gets the blame! And then God gets invited to solve it all as the reading goes on to its "Rend the heavens" lines. Probably everyone has an occasional "Rend the heavens!" day. Some people [ed: LIKE ME] have "Rend the heavens!" lives. What would that be?
Hunger? Fear? Weakness? Depression? Addiction? Discrimination? How many lives shout out to God to tear up the skies and put an end to this unhappiness on the tiny planet Earth! Read Psalm 88 for an extreme example. What reason could anyone have to speak this way to God?
Look at a few December leaves, the old ones blowing around the ground. Isaiah did. What did he see?
"Yet," he says. Yet? Yet what?
A character in one of J.D. Salinger's short stories says that the most important word in the Bible is "watch." That person would love Advent and especially the gospel: "Be on the watch! Stay awake! Watch with a sharp eye! Look around you! Be on guard!" Why would "watch" be anyone's favorite notion? How do we watch? What are we watching for? Take the question to Isaiah, take it to a saint you have known and one you wish you had known.
What would help us stay awake and watch?
The tide seems to be shifting somewhat at Fuller. Most of the people I talk to admit that they're basically holding on to outdated beliefs until someone comes up with a good enough argument. By the time I'm finished with them, they are rethinking (I used the story of Peter in Acts who found the Holy Spirit at work in the Gentiles - people She had no business producing fruit in - as my "proof-text"). I was able to help change their policy about requiring internship supervisors to sign the statement of belief (which says "homosexual contact...is unbiblical"), so I could have my supervisor. And now they are reconsidering that part of the statement, in acknowledgement of many of their feeder churches' stance that it is not unbiblical or at least the Bible is not clear.
Maybe I'll do some good at Fuller after all.
I'm off to my first Diocesan Convention today! Woo-hoo, Episcopal politics! Should be a blast.
Thursday, December 01, 2005
As I look through all these websites about loss of children, especially babies from miscarriage, stillbirth, and SIDS, I'm completely overcome. How does anyone ever deal with this? It's so horrible. I found a site on which people had posted photos of their infants....some were hooked to ventilators, some were funny colors, some had strange tissues clinging to their little faces and heads. They looked otherworldly. They were so tiny. They were so dark. Not pink, but deep red.
And the stories are so miserable. How people had to decide to take the baby off the respirator, then held him as he died. People who've had two or three miscarriages. Over and over they say they are empty, they want to die.
I think with the death of a baby we acutely experience the death of hope. This little life was basically nothing but potential. Now all the potential in the world has died. It's hard to trust that anything can be positive when someone so innocent is snatched away.
What can I possibly say to these people? I am dumb. I am awestruck.
I don't blame them for wanting to die. We don't much want to live without hope. And why should we?
I look at this picture taped to my monitor, it's of me sticking out my tongue at my niece who I am holding. She is looking back in open-mouthed wonder. My hands are as big as her entire side. I'm holding this whole person in my two hands. And I'm goofing with her, but it's my favorite picture because it expresses how silly I feel around kids, how inept, yet she's just totally into it. I love her so much and she's not even mine.
So I don't know what to say.
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
http://savedarfur.org/ (check out the sample prayers; also, this is just a horrendous situation)
http://www.compassion.com/ ($32/month to sponsor a child)
http://www.heifer.org/ (one of my personal favorites for Christmas shopping!)
http://www.forusa.org/ (thanks to a commenter for sending me here - I enjoyed Walter Wink's article on homosexuality but also it's just a good group overall)
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Go to www.kyotoandbeyond.org and sign the People's Ratification of the Kyoto Treaty.
Also, check out the ever-growing antagonism in the comments on the "gay debate"! Hee hee!
Sunday, November 27, 2005
And there were plenty of those. Near as I could tell, everyone who comes is a Christian already, but is disillusioned with their Evangelical/Pentecostal/Mainline background. So it's slightly off from the initial presentation the church makes - that they are reaching out to the lost of their surrounding neighborhood. I mean, that's definitely their goal, they're just not there yet, which is fine. They're in this for the long haul. But yeah, right now, it's mostly kids from the local Christian college and a few others.
The service went okay - although because we knew what the plan was and how it was actually supposed to happen, we knew when things didn't go right. Still, nobody seemed the least bit troubled about that. They're very laid back. I will say that had I not met these folks and spent some time hanging out with them, I might have thought, as one visitor we spoke to said, that they were trying too hard to be cool. It did come off - well, not as cheesy as Mosaic, but affected. Still, because we'd talked to the leaders and knew their hearts were 100% in their work, we knew they were sincerely trying the best they could. At that point, I just have to accept that "alt-worship" is not to my personal taste, but that doesn't make it bad (as hard as that is to admit!).
This is a wonderful group of people and they definitely have the right attitude about solid community and giving space to question. They allow for a wide range of viewpoints but they don't make apologies about reading scripture, corporate praying, or serving Eucharist every week. They do have roots and honor them; they also like to play with the tradition.
And nobody pretends it's perfect. They know they need to reach their neighbors; they know they need to assimilate newcomers better. I got to witness a hissy fit yesterday from a person involved in the service who didn't want to be asked to participate at such late notice. They don't have consistent money coming in. Their heat only works half the time (we know, we've been sleeping here). They are disorganized to a point that would drive me mad.
But people love it. They feel refreshed, peaceful, welcomed, accepted, trusted, honored, used (in a good way), not pressured. The church has grown tremendously for a start-up. They are doing something right.
Plus they've got all these people living here at the church (they call it an abbey), including two who've taken the title of "monk" and are trying to live into that. They house people with nowhere else to go for months - as long as it takes. The liturgical arts pastor mops the floor. The intern gives the sermon (and the people raise hands and give their own opinion on the topic!). There's a pug, Jerry, who's been blessed as "minister of hospitality" (and has also communed - accidentally - when some bread fell on the floor!). They are baptizing people. They have several houses full of church members living in intentional community. They go through the lectionary texts during the week and have a group that meets in a pub to talk about theology over beer and they watch films of significance. They have a woman who has written giant icons for their worship space. They have musicians who write the service music. There's an awful lot of gifting that this church has been blessed with. And they use it well.
Right now I'm waiting for someone to take us to the airport. We're hoping that will happen. So far the hospitality has been wonderful - we're sleeping at the church and have been treated to several meals, not to mention quite friendly cooperation with our intrusive camerawork. Of course I don't want to get stuck here but I also don't really want to take a bus in a foreign town. It'll be fine. But friends in LA, if we're not back in a couple more days, send out a search party.
So I just bought two buttons and now I'll tell you what they say:
"Please Jesus protect me from your followers"
"A fat ass is a sign of a life well lived"
Wow...I think that's the end for today. If you're curious about cota visit them online at www.apostleschurch.org.
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
I'm sure I'll have plenty to say about it upon my return. Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving!
So this guy in my ethics class asked if he could interview me about my stance on homosexuality for his final paper. This guy, clearly, wants to shred my viewpoint to pieces. But as usual, I was like, Bring it on. So I said sure, I'd help. Now I think I want to back out.
Ugh. I'm the token liberal. I mean, I've asked for it. This is so nerve-wracking. I have to be so careful about how I approach this. I feel like I'm representing the entire pro-gay Christian universe! So much pressure! Help?!
The main reason I'm nervous is because my reasoning started (but didn't end) because I saw and experienced gay Christianity with my own eyes. I witnessed the work of God's spirit in people who she had no business working with. And I talked to people who prayed for release for years, who tried to live celibate, who denied themselves any joy, who hated themselves, yes, who even submitted to voluntary pain: electroshock therapy. And then one day, for the lucky ones, they clearly heard the voice of God telling them: "You're okay. You are the way I made you and I did not make you wrong. Go in peace." And sin no more...no more self-loathing of a beautiful creation of God's. No more following a call to celibacy that's not your cross to bear. No more obssessing about what you shouldn't be. It's time to become who God made you to be. And that will necessarily include your orientation, and if you find someone, a loving, monogamous covenant relationship.
It's like when women starting obviously getting called as pastors. The church finally realized they couldn't deny the work of the Holy Spirit. It's like when Peter went to the Gentiles in Acts and was amazed because they already had the Spirit. He said wait! They shouldn't have the spirit! And yet he could not deny that they did, and the church changed forever. Most denominations recognized the same working of the Spirit in the lives of many women, in concert with social changes going on last century. And as Stassen tells us, God is always ahead of culture.
But all of this is reasoning based on experience, not the right order (which is supposed to be basic convictions lead to principles lead to rules lead to situations). But then again, our ethics paradigm calls for constant repentance and constant checking back fromwhat we've learned. That, I guess, is where I'm starting. I went in believing one way and the Spirit of God and the Christians I met changed the way I saw the issue, from the rules down through the principles until my basic convictions were shaken (which was NOT pleasant or easy!). In the end, I could not deny what was obvious before my face - God was alive and well in our church's gay group, and that meant everything else needed a second look. Upon second look, we find Scripture isn't quite so clear. And we find Jesus definitely on the side of compassion. Like with the woman issue, it requires reading the narrative and the context of Scripture over proof-texting.
My position is Orthodox Inclusive. I refuse to throw out the Bible passages. I refuse to deny the holiness of Scripture and what we can learn from Tradition. But I also believe God does new things with the Church through the Spirit. (I mean geez, if she didn't, we'd never have had the Reformation!) This may be a new thing. And if we can wrestle with the Bible in a scholarly and responsible way and can see contextually that the issue of orientation is not addressed, and same-gender covenental relationship is not addressed, if we can see that Leviticus laws may have had more to do with reproduction and Romans also (after all, it is more "natural" for women and men to lie together b/c that makes babies). Even Genesis deals with this, and with human being's need for community. It couldn't be Adam and Steve because this wouldn't have allowed the human race to come into existence! I agree that we're not to ignore the biblical wisdom nor put our own desires onto the text. But I have been convinced by responsible biblical scholarship that honestly deals with these texts, both what's difficult and what's been misunderstood about them.
The basic conviction is that God is love so hatred of gays is wrong. God made us in God's image so people with homosexual orientation are made in God's image. God desires community for us, both with one another and with God. This means helping people get away from self-loathing, from the lie that God can't love them, from the difficulties presented by asking them to change something they can't. There are people all over the spectrum - some CAN change, some DID choose, some WERE abused. But, can we possibly, possibly imagine, that some cannot, did not, were not. Just simply are. If God calls that person to a loving relationship, to teaching Sunday School, to the ministry...and the person is absolutely tracking with God and knows this call and their life produces fruit of the Spirit and their ministry makes progress...could this be an exception to the rule that all gays who act on their desires are sinning?
This was the exception I found. And I had to then reevaluate my principles. And actually I found that my basic convictions remained intact. Things I thought were basic weren't actually - they were based on something other than God (church teaching, family attitude, societal pressure). Always, always, it's about going to the core and looking at where is God? And God is with the gays. Period.
"When you feel God has called you to something, and people are questioning it, that's hurtful." (my TA re: her call to ministry as a woman)
Same story, next verse. Imagine being told not only are you not suitable for ministry leadership, you're not even suitable to be a Christian, in fact, you're not created the way people are supposed to be. Imagine if you knew deep in your soul that God loves you, but you are told your whole life God cannot love you the way you are. Who do you listen to?
But it's so easy to look at this and say I'm basing it on my experience or emotions or just what I want instead of the Bible. Dammit!
I'm going to back out. I don't want to be this guy's sacrificial lamb. Or would I do more good than harm? Would I maybe help him see there's someone out there who believes in Scripture and in gay rights, and maybe that would plant a seed for further thinking, maybe crack open his mind a tiny little bit?
I don't know what to do. Honestly I don't really even know if I have time to deal with it. I have my own group to interview and be interviewed with. Do I really want to add the extra work of another? Am I copping out?
Well here is a beautiful passage written by the mother of a gay teenager who committed suicide. He did it largely because of his ultra-conservative family's religiously-motivated pestering. His mother experienced a crisis of faith when, instead of healing him, God let him kill himself. Here is what she later wrote:
“When God views a loving and caring heart he is pleased and all is well with him. He is not concerned with our sexuality, but with the vast numbers of humanity who are not being loved and cared for…I would rather be branded a heretic while helping a child of God out of the gutters of this world, where the church and I have thrown them, than to pass by on the other side muttering under our breath, ‘The wages of sin is death.’ Rather this than to look away from the pain and humiliation of a child lying helpless.
“The heart that hungers and thirsts for God’s love will find it in the Bible. It has been said the eyes are the mirror of one’s soul. When we look into God’s mirror [the Bible] will we see God’s reflection of love gazing back? Or will we see an evil reflection of man’s inhumanity?”
That is the question.
Leroy Aarons, Prayers for Bobby: A Mother's Coming to Terms with the Suicide of her Gay Son (HarperSanFrancisco, 1995), 147-148.
Friday, November 18, 2005
Gail Ramshaw is interested, above all else, in practicality, not theoretical academics. She doesn’t speak to other liturgical theologians – her concern is for the average churchgoer. She wants to make the worship experience more hospitable and applicable to everyone who participates. To do this, she focuses on the language used in worship (surely her Lutheran background has something to do with this attention to word).
Language is an extremely powerful tool in worship. It can bring warmth to the room. It can comfort, connect, and caress. It can also grate and alienate. One of the most important things for worship leaders to realize is that their words, particularly their words for God, will deeply impact their hearers’ understanding of who God is.
I hope we can all agree that language is not static, and that at the least through the process of translation, we’ve updated the language of liturgy multiple times since Jesus’ day. Ramshaw’s goal is to bring our worship language into our current vernacular – that is, to carefully determine whether the words we use, which may once have been perfect, are still appropriate for the 21st century church.
Ramshaw defines liturgical speech as “Metaphoric Rhetoric.” She uses the term rhetoric because worship language is persuasive, formalized speech. We are trying to persuade the people that God loves them, or God that we are sorry for our sins, or each other that we love one another. We are always working on persuasion in worship. Part of the power of our words lies in this fact: they are meant to make something happen.
Rhetorical speech also chooses words carefully, weighing their meaning, crafting sentences which will most perfectly elucidate the hearer. This means the speech is not too lofty but also not too low. We are familiar with using formalized language in rituals: indeed, a wedding or a Presidential inauguration just wouldn’t seem the same in everyday parlance. And therefore, it is entirely appropriate to come before the throne of God with, if not completely formal language, then at least extremely carefully chosen words and finely tuned phrases. She has a wonderful word about casual talk in worship: “All too often, this talk is devoid of image, shallow in theology, sentimental in emotion, and not nearly as humorous as the presider thinks it is.” (Reviving Sacred Speech, 11). But this is serious business, for every utterance from our lips in the sanctuary is teaching someone something about God.
Ramshaw would say that what people believe about God they largely learn from the way we talk about God in worship. Speech leads us to believing certain ways about ourselves and the world around us, it moves us to action. The law of belief follows the law of words, of prayer, for the majority of Christians. Our lex orandi cannot help but inform our lex credendi. She says, “Although liturgical language is not identical with doctrinal language, the faith expressed in the liturgy is the faith we are called to believe.” (RSS 32) Thus, to have a proper understanding of Christian doctrine, people must not be misled by liturgical speech that uses words which may have evolved past their original theological intent and meaning.
So we see that sacred speech is indeed a volatile weapon to wield. There is one more compelling reason for this: its near-constant use of inaccurate speech, also known as metaphor. Ramshaw was strongly influenced by Paul Ricoeur’s theories on metaphor. Metaphor is “that use of speech in which the context demonstrates that a factually or logically inaccurate word is on the deepest level true.” (Liturgical Language, 7).
Ramshaw holds that it is the only way we can talk about God, period. We talk about God in metaphor because human speech cannot fully verbalize God. So we call God Rock, Lord, Shaddai, Abba, Spirit, Father, and Son.
The paradox of sacred speech is that we cannot possibly convey the divine in our language, yet Christianity is a religion of words: Christ the Logos, Scripture, preaching, praying, systematic theology. But metaphor is a great way to talk about spiritual things, because (as Ramshaw says): “[it] can be more true than fact [because] it contains many layers of meaning simultaneously....A multivalent metaphor opens up an archeological dig, available for exploration at whichever level each believer can undertake.” (LL 8) Metaphors are communal words, available to many people because they work on so many levels.
Well-chosen words are wonderful tools for teaching doctrine through worship. There is “no end to our discovery of Christ in liturgical language” (RSS 146) – What can we learn about Jesus by calling him Rock? Lamb? Word?
When looking at what our speech means, we must examine the metaphors we are using (for we are necessarily using them when speaking of the divine), how we use them (both historically and currently), and especially why those particular ones (where did they come from? What are their meaning(s)), and we must subsequently consider their many real and potential effects on the members of our congregations. (RSS 9)
Ramshaw says, “the rhetorical character of liturgical speech must serve the hospitable unity of the assembly” (RSS 10) – that is, it must speak to everyone present – and this is much more complicated than we might at first imagine. “To be Christian liturgy, the sacred rhetoric is to be communal rhetoric.” (RSS 20-21) “The liturgy is the expression of all the people of God, and all those people need to have their voices heard.” (LL 10) This is the real business of being inclusive: including people not only physically, but linguistically, in the Body of Christ (another metaphor).
“Ricoeur teaches that words…have meaning only within a specific context and within a specific community of discourse.” (LL 10) We cannot escape the fact that words mean different things to different people in different cultures and contexts and especially throughout different times in history.
British citizens hear "king" and Kingdom, or even "Lord", differently than Americans; spiritual "blindness" has wildly different meanings for people who've always and never been sighted (and I would assume a most interesting meaning for one who has been both). Ramshaw reminds us that to use "the image of blindness as a sign of human need excludes [people]" (LL 33), and certainly representing human need, loss, or stupidity with the word "blind" is not really sensitive. What about referring to snakes, lepers, winter, Egypt, darkness, as shorthand for evil?
For better or worse, our culture understands words more literally than ever. Also, colloquialisms change meaning regularly (she has one great line about “just when you get a psalm perfectly rendered in today’s language, the word ‘gay’ changes meaning”).
Another reality is that our pronoun system has changed, and no longer are pronouns “he” and “she” applied to anything other than gendered creatures. Even in the good old days when one could say “mankind,” male terminology actually included women when it chose to. (LL 20) For instance, “all men are created equal” included women, but not “all men can vote.” This is important to remember when we wax rhapsodic about the supposed simplicity of historic speech.
Ramshaw reminds us: “We cannot act surprised or chagrined when in a religion of incarnation the divine vision is diminished by the speech of the receiving culture.” (RSS 77) Christianity is a religion of the incarnate God, and it has to speak to the people where they are.
She is simply asking us all to take a step back and really think about what we are saying. If it is true that the law of prayer is the foundation of the law of belief, or that the two are inextricably woven together, then we absolutely must be conscious and careful regarding our sacred speech – and not only that, but we must make it beautiful, proper, and theologically correct.
It will only harm our credendi to have our orandi using words which are significantly confusing about the nature of God. Calling God only Father does imply that God is gendered and male. Ramshaw asks us to consider the subtle, creeping ways our belief is shaped by our prayer language. If you pray to “Father” long enough, you can’t help but begin imagining God as an old man with a white beard meting out reward or punishment (depending on your own experience of fatherhood). For many of us, especially women, this can cause cognitive dissonance.
“We cannot ignore the resonances of father imagery in mythology, philosophy, patriarchal culture, psychology, and personal experience. We must…[stress] the specifically biblical theological meanings and [weed] out the inappropriate growths that choke the Christian message.” (RSS 47-48) Some connotations of Father are appropriate and helpful, and other things it has meant are harmful. We cannot ignore the latter because we prefer the former; we must take all into account and seriously weigh the results of continued use. There are ways to soften and balance metaphors without losing the good things they represent for us.
Ramshaw sees inclusiving language as a several-decade effort – not to be done rashly. For “our vision of God is at stake.” (RSS 78) She understands the gravity of what she’s proposing, but also warns that: “We must beware lest by sanctifying a metaphor we legitimate social, psychological, and ethical positions we would choose not to perpetuate.” (Tree of Life, 56)
So how does she propose we responsibly update language without distorting theology or capitulating to political correctness? She resolutely insists that Scripture be the primary resource of our metaphoric language and the foundation of all sacred speech. (RSS 22-23: more evidence of a good Lutheran!).
Her words: “I urge: always open it up, open it up. Open up the Bible, to see what the images mean. Open up the tradition, and find there Christian riches long forgotten, religious jewels locked up in dusty chests. Open up other religions and cultures, to compare, to contrast, to borrow, yes, also to criticize and to reject. Open up the memories of the conservative grandparents, for whom the traditional imagery conveyed mercy. Open up the creativity of the newfashioned writers, who can share with others fresh metaphors of mercy. Open it up, open it up. By the power of the Spirit, life, not death, will enter and grow.” (RSS 81)
She is hopeful that we can retain some beloved, if androcentric, metaphors (like King or Lord), by compromise: keeping the meaningful words of our faith but absolutely providing teaching so that meaning is clear. Still, something being liked isn’t enough reason for it to keep being used: “As symphony orchestras know all too well, audiences clap louder for pieces they know, perhaps applauding their own knowledge as much as the musicians' performance. Separating out the well-beloved from the stylistically excellent is not an easy task.” (LL 44)
We, as worship leaders, liturgical theologians, have to be aware of and avoid overuse of androcentric terminology. Our tasks are to free traditional metaphors through more creative exposition of scriptural images, and to incorporate more feminine metaphors to balance the overwhelmingly male use throughout history. Ramshaw says, “the Church needs metaphors accurate enough to convey the historic faith, deep enough to contain human experience, inclusive enough to speak to many different peoples.” (LL 45) “Always the stories of faith must be retranslated into the latest vernacular, always the metaphors explicated anew. Only well versed in the tradition are we able to choose among the connotations that present themselves before us.” (RSS 48)
In all these details, we must always keep this daunting truth before us: “Our assembly contains the words, but even the heavens and earth cannot contain God. The mystery of Christian worship is that in our sacred speech, in our little bread and wine, God chooses to be revealed. But our liturgy does not contain all there is of God.” (RSS 164-5)
We must, in the end, accept that all our speech will never live up to the reality of God – this is the humbling and necessary “no” we speak to our liturgical work. But at the same time, “even liturgical theologians, perhaps especially liturgical theologians, must resist the NO on Sunday morning. To be Christian is to assemble on the day of the resurrection and to practice once again our insertion in to the metaphors of grace.” Even if we didn’t write the words and don’t like them, we still “join together for the theophany, offering and communion.” (RSS 37)
When we worship together, Ramshaw says, “We are all practicing the ritual, hoping to do it better this week than last. Of course religious ritual is practice: religious faith itself is practice.
…It’s like sex. You both get better and better at it. And you like to stay in practice, because it’s different every time.” (TL 117) [This is my favorite quote from her!]
Perhaps you will, as I have, begin to hear more carefully the words used in worship, and start to examine their applicability. If we begin to do this, Ramshaw will have accomplished her goal.