Saturday, October 28, 2006

Some quick blurbs...

Since I've been out of the blogging game for a couple of weeks I thought perhaps a quick rundown of some key thoughts would be a nice start:

1. The Cardinals have won the World Series. Now I can die a little happier than I would have died yesterday. For Cardinal/Razorback dual fans life is never easy and heartbreak is commonplace, but finally I have seen both win a championship in sports I care about (basketball for the Hogs).

2. Our pastoral theology prof made a great observation that "I am" is a sum total of our relationships (including our relationship with God). There is no "real me" outside of my relationships as if they're one thing but I'm "truly" something else (and usually better). It's a great way to see the picture.

3. Also from our pastoral theology prof (he's having an on sort of month) comes the distinction of "Social Conversation", which is the act of communicating for the goal of maintaining and/or promoting an environment of social peace through avoidance of substantive issues as opposed to "Listening", which accepts tension in the air and might seek change in one or more conversation participants.

This reminds me of people saying "don't talk about religion or politics at a bar". In other words don't talk about who you are in community or what you believe at the most basic level. I think this is a flaw in how we date too - we're always maintaining the peace with Social Conversation rather than risking the relationship through active Listening. There you have it...

4. Liberal Mainline Christians are still, on average, the most self-righteous pricks in the religion business. Although I think I still prefer them to the evangelo-nutties.

5. The Church isn't an institution that doles out Mysteries, it's a Mystery that has institutions.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

bold proclamation

i'm giving a sermon tommorrow in chapel. it's going to be on 'bold proclamation'.

A good example of bold proclamation is a story that my Old Testament prof. tells about his time as a student in Romania. At the time Romania was under the communists, and they were often very aggressive, especially to people who wore clerical attire in public. So, the Patriarch made a ruling. Priest cannot wear any clerical attire in public, nor can they keep a beard. It would get them harassed, it would endanger their families, and it also was preventing them from getting to their churches on time.

But the monks had a very different ruling. The Patriarch issues orders that monks had to wear their Cassocks and had to keep a beard. In other words, nobody pushes this guy around.

Now that makes a statement. That’s difficult for a persecutor to come to grips with, and it’s even more difficult for a sympathetic person to ignore.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

How to see the stories of God

So i'm sitting around trying to figure out how i'm supposed to teach 9 year-olds the fine art of reading Scriptures. I think some things are for sure: I cannot tell them to learn Greek... it's not really viable for me to give them a crash course in Jewish history and sociology cc. 6 BC-30 AD... I don't think I can explain the ideas of authorial distinction or redactions criticism.

But you know, the texts are really more prophetic than historical anyway. We read them for what they say to us today. If you read the story of Jonah, it doesn't really matter if it "happened", the point is that God wants you to hear that story... it's somehow timelessly relevant to the human condition.

We call God 'our Father' anyway, so I guess i'll just explain it like this: Pretend that your dad is telling you this story. You know that you're supposed to get something out of it, but you might have to think a little while. What's the moral here? How does the pattern of this story relate to your own life? Yes... that's far more productive.

The further you can distance scripture reading from doctrinal analysis the better, and that principle extends to adults and professional theologians.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Consecrated Virgin Ceremony

This one from MSN is really interesting. Once upon a time Virgins were an office in Christian Churches. I didn't realize that rites still existed for them after the transition into nun Convents.

Woman joins small club of ‘consecrated virgins’
43-year-old in New York turns down sex for Jesus in rare Catholic ceremony

EAST AURORA, N.Y. - She stood at the altar in a white gown and veil, but she was there for no earthly man. Lori Rose Cannizzaro was dedicating her virginity to Jesus.

Saturday's rare Catholic ceremony, one her own pastor didn't know existed, turned the 42-year-old into a "consecrated virgin." Fewer than 200 women in the United States and 2,000 worldwide have declared their perpetual virginity this way, according to U.S. Association of Consecrated Virgins.

"There are people who think I'm nuts," Cannizzaro said.

The ceremony was a revival of one of the church's oldest rituals.

Mystical marriage
The rite is available only to virgins, who agree to abstain from sex so they can dedicate their lives to Jesus Christ in what the association describes as a mystical marriage and a profound spiritual blessing. Each woman wears a band on her left ring finger as a symbol, much like a wedding band.

Cannizzaro, who is not a nun, will continue to live on her own and work as a cook at Christ the King Seminary in a Buffalo suburb.

She said she has plenty of support from family and friends.

"It is a good and holy thing to want to be in a virginal state," she said.

The ceremony was just the second of its kind performed in the Diocese of Buffalo.

‘Dating wasn’t working’
The idea of consecrated virgins faded in the Middle Ages, but Pope Paul VI restored the rite in 1970. Only a bishop can perform the special Mass. Bishop Edward Kmiec led Cannizzaro's ceremony at her home parish, Immaculate Conception.

Cannizzaro, who spent the past two years taking seminary classes in preparation, said she knew more than a decade ago she would be better off single.

"Dating wasn't working. I wasn't connecting," she said. "Not that I never wanted to be married or never wanted children."

© 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Fallenness and the social sciences

"A lot of people in the social sciences spend a lot of time learning all there is to know about the broken world, but it never occurs to them that it's broken."

That was a quote from our Theological Reflections instructor. I rather like it. Makes me think twice before looking at Anthropology at a PhD track.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Reception of Divinity in Tears: Baptism, Eucharist, and Sex

Tbis was first on my new MySpace blog, which is none other than this blog copy/pasted. So, no need to switch, but for those of you who desire some MySpace contact, no problem, just go here.

Today I'd like to comment on the nature of Sacraments - ritual acts performed by religious groups (in this case the Church) in order to actualize some kind of spiritual reality.

Christians are always walking a very odd line on ritual acts. On the one hand they've always been celebrating what are called the Mysteries of Faith (Gk: Mysterion), most especially Eucharist (ie: communion, Lord's supper) and Baptism. On the other, it cannot be that our ritual actions are magic. They're not passive acts where God 'does something' unrejectable and obvious to the recipient.

The basic idea of a Sacrament presumes that the individual understands both the visible and invisible realities to be A. Truly existant and B. Existant on their own terms - ie. the 'invisible' doesn't have to become visible in order to become 'Real', nor does the visible have to be supernatural imbued for all to see in order to participate in the divine - the bread and wine of the Eucharist would appear as exactly that under a microscope at any point in the consecration.

In this post I'm only going to be talking about a proposition by Symeon the New Theologian and Mark the Monk, who have parallel ideas, on the nature of Baptism.

As most Church Fathers of their day, both simply presume infant Baptism in the Byzantine tradition. Yet, both are also charismatic and ascetic teachers who believe strongly that a person has to manifest the grace imparted to them in Baptism by taking on the Holy Spirit, which is only shown by a certain virtue in their lives. This is the Baptism "in the spirit of power" if you will, without which the clerical act appears not to work.

But that isn't entirely true. In fact the cultic ritual of Baptism does work according to both authors. The person is initiated into the Death of Christ, and the Grace of God is fully present. But, and both authors add this qualification, the grace only becomes effecacious when the person attempts to live into it; i.e. it is only when the spirit enlivens that grace to the person's consciousness that the gifts are what they are. It's a strange concept when put so abstractly, but perhaps it's not so complex if we adopt the correct stance.

As with anything 'theology' has a view of what it intends to do. Just as history proposes to tell us what occurred in the past and Physics attempts to quantify the natural laws of the universe. Too many of us presume that theology is fundamentally no different than History: the record of God's miracles that we're supposed to assent and orient ourselves towards.

But that's not really true. Simple fact is that most of us have no grand vision of light... we have no single experience that another person of a secular disposition couldn't shrug off as delusional, emotional, or self-serving. And it's true, we Christians (and other faithful people) look at the same darkness that everyone else sees... but we see something else beyond it.

This, then, is the proper goal of Theology: To see the divine realities behind the mundane material world and to attempt to manifest the knowledge of them in our lives.

So it's not really an attempt to convince someone that what's not there is there, in some materially true sense. Rather, it's changing the eyes with which we see the same thing. So, speaking of taking the Bread and Wine in the Eucharistic celebration as Christ's body and blood of salvation St. Symeon writes "If those who eat of His Flesh and drink of His Blood have eternal life, according to divine Word, but when we eat of it and have in ourselves no more sense than from eating corporeal food, without gaining an awareness of the other life, we have received mere bread, and not God as well."

So for Symeon it's perception - the eyes we see with - which really makes the divine reality capable of being received.

What we see then is that the seemingly magical formulas of Christian ritual life are only valid once they're received properly. We only really know of their effects by reference to an outside event, usually something that takes place after the ritual act itself. For example, speaking of Baptism, St. John Climacus writes:

"The tears that come after Baptism are greater than Baptism itself, even though it may seem rash to say so. Baptism washes off those evils that were previously within us, whereas the sins committed after Baptism are washed away by tears. The Baptism received by us as children we have all defiled, but we cleanse it anew by tears. If God in His love for the human race had not given us tears, those being saved would be few indeed and hard to find."

The poetic image of tears is both beautiful and effective. On the one hand we cannot miss the literary parallel between watery liquids involved in the two Baptisms. Secondly, we cannot miss the metaphorical connection between tears and struggling; pain.

And so it is for Climacus that it is only when we've struggled to the point of tears that we begin to realize the truth of our Baptisms. Put another way, Paul says unambiguously that all of those who are Baptized into Christ have been Baptized "into his death... so that in sharing in a death like his, they may also share in a life like his." The Epistle connection is very straight forward - you die to this world as Christ died to this world, denying yourself to do the will of God, and so you will share in his resurrection.

The rub is, of course, that not all who are Baptized do this, and we're still very much alive in this world. So, in this case, the only resolution is that those who are Baptized into the death of Christ are not necessarily all who were physically Baptized, but rather those who are Baptized into the death of Christ are the Baptized ones who fulfilled the demands of their Baptism. It is, therefore, only at death that the person's life can be reflected upon as having been among the Truly Baptized or those who have denied their Baptism.

The rituals, in short, are a vow - a promise.

Likewise one could view the marital act, or even the sexual act. Scripturally sex is treated as the union of flesh between two individuals. Ironically, Marriage is the same treatment. Literally, it's exactly the same Scriptural language. Allow me to quote:

[Gen 2.21-24] And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

[Matt. 19:3-6] And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?" He answered, "Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder."

[1 Cor 6.15-17] Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, "The two shall become one flesh." But he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.

We see represented here three major divisions of Scripture - Torah, Gospel, and Epistle, all echoing the same language. The message could not be clearer - sex and marriage both unite the two into one indivisible flesh.

Yet this raises an issue. Certainly people do get divorces, and certainly not everyone whom fornicates with someone becomes a committed, life-long spouse of that person - especially if it's a hired prostitute!

So it would seem to me to fall under the same general rubric as Baptism: Sex is the consummation - the physical act meant to manifest the spiritual truth of two completely and divinely united persons into a bond so close that they are, in the unseen realm, one. But, whether that is truly the case can only be seen at death. The sex is, if you will, the vow... the vow to unite with someone totally as we seek to unite even with God. But, inasmuch as that vow is broken through infidelity, fornication, or divorce, then it's unfulfilled.

The sex itself doesn't make the two persons one flesh, but rather the life-long committment of the two persons, at the end, will validate the truthfulness or falsity of the sexual promise - just as the life in Christ will validate or invalidate the promises of Baptism and Eucharist.

So again, the imagery is effective if and only if the recipient can see the divine purpose and act upon it. The power of God is always there; it's a promise of the way things are. At the final judgement Eucharist will be understood as the true Body and Blood of Christ, Baptism will be understood as initiation into the Kingdom of God, and yes, even Sex will be judged as the unity of flesh between two persons.

I think that the point is that only if we live into the responsibilities of the Sacrament do we derive the benefits. God will not condemn us per se, but we can most certainly condemn ourselves. The Sacraments always link promises to responsibilities: If you share in the death, you share in the life; if you take the body and blood worthily then it is unto forgiveness of sin/soul and body, and if you unite truly then your unity will be co-salvific, accounted worthy under God. The penalty for not living into those "if's" is simple, the blessing which accompanies them will not be effacacious towards salvation.

Not that any of this is dogma, or above forgiveness (thank the lord!). In fact, we can never forget the cleansing power of the Baptism by Tears. In that Baptism all things are made anew before God. :)