Currently Thinking About: Marriage, Church Traditions, and Divine Love

Some view marriage to their church tradition in the same way some view and practice marriage between a man and woman. As self sufficient and sustainable without help from those outside their particular marriage (tradition). This is an extension of the modern myth of the “nuclear” family. Marriage for the common good means covenant commitment to an exclusive marriage that counts on those outside the marriage to prop it up and sustain its exclusivity, authenticity, and integrity. It is good for the church, and society at large, when the members of the church catholic can display this kind of ecumenism and humility.

The other extreme is to view exclusive relationships as fluid and all-inclusive…polyamorous even. Claiming exclusivity to more than one, but not being able to sustain such a tempestuous dream because of our limits as creatures…our “not-Godness.” This is an extension of the postmodern myth of pure syncretism. This understanding and practice is an unwillingness to admit, that in a fallen world, embrace always includes exclusion.

Indeed, we were made, “…a little lower than the angels.” But Christ was, “…made a little lower than the angels for awhile…,” so that he might enter into an exclusive marriage with his creatures. His exclusion from God has resulted in him being, “…crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” This kind of love goes beyond human attempts at exclusion and embrace.
It is holy. Thanks be to God.

Andrew White bagdad

A Prayer for Iraq: The Vicar of Baghdad

I’m taking some time this morning to remember our Christian brothers and sisters, indeed all of God’s children, who are suffering in the nation of Iraq. Last week, for the first time in 1600 years, no mass was celebrated in Mosul. More details here.

All across Iraq the suffering continues as even more Christians have been forced to flee their homes. Those who are unable to flee are often left behind to suffer. Some, like the Vicar in the video below, choose to stay in the midst of incredible uncertainty. Uncertainty as a way of life. The result…primal faith. Some are left behind in these kind of circumstances because they are weak and physically infirmed. The Vicar of Baghdad himself (Andrew White) has been disabled by multiple sclerosis, yet enabled to participate in the suffering of Christ in a unique way.

Here is the kind of embodiment of the Christian faith that I wish for those from outside the fold to see. Here is an embodiment of the faith that I wish for those inside the fold to see and consider.

I am grateful for this report from Vice. It’s a kind of “postmodern” honesty that allows a video like this to be propagated by a news syndicate that has a soft spot for carnality and often presents itself as NSFW.

My family attends a church where we share the Lord’s Supper together every week. One of the neat things about this practice is the real way in which we join in sacramental solidarity with the Christians depicted at the end of this report. We are not disconnected; the bread and wine feed us both and help us to remember each other. So, let us remember and pray.

The Vicar of Baghdad – Part 1 (from Vice)

Catholicity of the Reformation Cover

The Catholicity of the Reformation: On Historic Christian Worship and its Practice

I came across a great little book a few weeks ago by two of my favorite Lutheran theologians called The Catholicity of the Reformation. It’s based on a series of lectures given over 15 years ago at a couple of conferences sponsored by the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology. The section that follows comes at the end of a chapter titled “The Reform of the Mass.” Frank Senn, the author of this chapter, traces the reforms in the Mass brought about by the stalwarts of the original European Reformations, but reiterates the continuity of form and content that the Reformers retained in their liturgies of worship. He argues that the Reformers were not concerned with changing the form and content of the Mass, as much as they were with restoring the congregation as participants who understood what was going on and lead to respond with explicit faith. The Reformation was a communal and social revolution in which the vernacular of the people and group singing played a huge role…as much a social and communal revolution as it was a doctrinal one. The Reformation did not reject the basic historic form and content of Christian worship. Instead, the form of the Mass was understood as a safeguard that ensured that Christian worship would be Trinitarian and focused on the grace of Christ.

In the section below, Frank Senn does a nice job of summing up what we have been chasing in our own church context over the last three years. We have had these concerns on the forefront of our minds every week as we plan the flow of our liturgy and seek to be faithful to the work of the Spirit in those who have come before us. I have a hunch that even the most basic submission to historic worship forms could lead to a contemporary ecumenical renewal within the broader church if a wide range of churches agreed to even a “bare-bones” practice of broad historical forms and language. What would it look like for Protestant evangelical churches to at least start thinking about the degree to which their services express trinitarian worship (naming the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) in form and content? A little formal continuity and common language could go a long way in the context of denominations that find less and less cohesion between local congregational expressions.

Tribalism within the modern Western evangelical church is astounding. In my opinion, failure to submit to common form and language is failure to submit to one another (dead and living). This often leads to more tribalism and suspicion. Christians hold the deepest language and forms of faith in common. These spring from the wells of our story…found in Holy Scripture. As it is wise to draw from the whole canon of Scripture, so it is wise to draw from the whole canon of liturgical response to God and his mercy. I find it odd when I meet brothers and sisters who adamantly defend their submission to Scripture, but reject forms of worship that mirror the story of Scripture and carry the wisdom of the ages.

A Modest Proposal

Using a broad based approach to common vernacular within local congregations, I call upon Protestant churches everywhere to broadly submit to the historic form of Christian worship found in a basic historical four-fold pattern of worship. In addition, I call upon these same churches to consider their own faithfulness to the practice of Scriptural symbols/sacraments commanded by our Lord and implied to be central to Christian practice and identity among the authors of the New Testament.

Let’s slow down everyone. There is so much freedom in these ancient forms. They are deep and simple. Invitation and gift; call and response:

Much historical experience stands between us at the end of the twentieth century and the sixteenth-century Reformation. We are influenced as much, if not more, by evangelical pietism, Enlightenment rationalism, and frontier revivalism as by the Reformation…

This historical order can no longer be presumed to be intact in the churches of the Reformation (except in the Episcopal/Anglican Churches in which the use of the prayer book is required by canon law). The pressure is great for these churches to devise “alternative” or “creative” liturgies that will be “seeker friendly.” What these well-intentioned efforts run the risk of doing, however, is undermining orthodoxia — the “right praise” of trinitarian worship that is expressed in the texts of the historic order of service. The “glory and praise” choruses and Jesus-songs in neo-evangelical worship (usually called “celebrations”) do not offer the same sturdy articulations of the trinitarian faith expressed in the texts of either the Latin chants or the chorales of the German Lutheran song mass (Lied Messe). No matter how conducive to engendering liturgical enthusiasm the “glory and praise” choruses might be, they are theologically unequal to the Gloria in excelsis Deo or Allein Gott in der Hoh sei ehr. The experience of the Reformation teaches us that the forms of public worship are not matters of indifference (adiaphora) because prayer (especially sung prayer and praise) forms belief; or, as the church fathers would have said, the lex orandi establishes the lex credendi. It is not adequate to claim the evangelical freedom to change forms of worship if those changes diminish expressions of the ecumenical dogmas of God the Holy Trinity and the two natures of Christ on which Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Cranmer, and the Council of Trent were not in disagreement. The catholic faith requires catholic worship.

The experience of the Reformation also teaches us that when liturgy goes awry the problem may be less with its form and content that with the way in which it is celebrated and interpreted. Today historic forms of worship and being jettisoned in favor of “alternative liturgies” that employ popular-type songs and dramas with the argument that traditional liturgy is boring or meaningless to occasional (and sometimes even to regular) worshipers. Almost invariably this argument is put forward by pastors who have little competence in presiding at the liturgy in a knowledgeable or compelling way and who may even be insecure in the role of presiding minister. The ritual incompetence includes not only poor public performances by ministers, musicians, and congregations but also poor judgment on the part of worship planners in deciding what to add to or subtract from the orders provided in the authorized worship books. Many liturgies get bogged down in extraneous details not specified by the order, or go in uncertain directions ritually and therefore theologically. It is little wonder that they fail to engage contemporary worshipers. As to the argument that the liturgy is boring, the historic Western liturgy does not suffer from a monotonous sameness; it has a built-in principle of variation in the rites, customs, and textual and musical options of the church year. A far as meaning is concerned, Josheph Jungmann taught that “Mass properly celebrated is itself the best catechesis.” The liturgy has served for centuries as the “school of the church” in which one learns the faith by gathering with the community of faith to praise the Creator, by attending to the proclamation and exposition of the word of God in Scripture, by professing one’s faith in public and praying for the needs of the world, by offering the world to God in a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, and by receiving the gifts of creation — bread and wine — and the means of communion with Christ. Only if these ritual acts are intact can there be adequate catechesis or teaching based on them.

One of the great concerns today is liturgical inculturation — liturgy reaching into the culture of the people who celebrate it. The catholic form of worship known as the mass links contemporary Christians with the people of God in all the preceding generations and provides examples of inculturation in the past. The mass is not a static form but one that is able to absorb the cultural contributions to all the societies in which is has been celebrated. This catholic form of worship as capable of being adapted to the vernacular cultures of Western Europe in the sixteenth century without being captured by those cultures, as Luther proved in his German Mass and as Cramner proved in his prayer books. Both liturgies are examples of inculturation that have transcended their own time and place. This catholic form of worship has provided a link with the arts and the natural world, especially in the employment of music, iconography, and architecture. Yet, unlike free liturgies, it has resisted being taken captive by the vitalities at work in secular culture.

-Frank C. Senn (in The Catholicity of the Reformation pgs. 50-52)

Francis and Bartholomew March 20 2013

East Meets West: Francis and Bartholomew

It didn’t make the front page of the New York Times, but church history was made yesterday as Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew shared an embrace and issued a joint declaration of common mission at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It was a tear inducing hour for those of us who recite the words of the Apostles’ Creed and claim membership in the, “…holy catholic church.”

This is required reading and watching for Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox Christian believers alike.

The text of Pope Francis’ homily

The text of Patriarch Bartholomew’s homily

Patriarch Bartholomew And Pope Francis Joint Declaration

Finally, here is the video from the events yesterday. Forward to 1:30:00 in this video to hear the homilies given by both leaders. The context and content of these messages are staggering.

Let us receive the special grace of this moment. We pause in reverent silence before this empty tomb in order to rediscover the grandeur of our Christian vocation: we are men and women of resurrection, and not of death. From this place we learn how to live our lives, the trials of our Churches and of the whole world, in the light of Easter morning. Every injury, every one of our pains and sorrows, has been borne on the shoulders of the Good Shepherd who offered himself in sacrifice and thereby opened the way to eternal life. His open wounds are the cleft through which the torrent of his mercy is poured out upon the world. Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of the basis of our hope! Let us not deprive the world of the joyful message of the resurrection! And let us not be deaf to the powerful summons to unity which rings out from this very place, in the words of the One who, risen from the dead, calls all of us “my brothers” (cf. Mt 28:10; Jn 20:17). -Pope Francis

Distractions_Type

Distractions: May 2014

Music

Vinyl’s great, but it’s not better than CDs

He Sliced Up A Tree Trunk And Put It On A Record Player.

Fender just released this “reclaimed” Telecaster, which I desire and think is beautiful.

A treasure trove of (downloadable) non-released recordings of Sufjan Stevens.

I have (unashamedly) been listening to the new albums from Beck and Coldplay. I’m quite enjoying both. Take that Pitchfork.

Here is a new track from Son Lux entitled “My Father’s Children.”

Culture

Books

What Marilynne Robinson Could Learn From Herself

Wesley Hill’s response to Sarah Pullman Bailey’s recent interview with Marilynne Robinson

A recording of T.S. Eliot reading “The Waste land” Download the e-book for free here.

Theology

Marriage Equality and the Bible: Why All Forms of Marriage in the Old Testament are Not Equal

Albert Mohler Jr. (President of the the Southern Baptist Convention) interviews Stanley Hauerwas. Some classic gems from Hauerwas in here!

Theologian Ben Myers On children’s participation in the liturgy: some Easter observations

Another post by Ben Myers…a tongue-in-cheek take on arriving late for church and your denominational identity.

A Field Guide to the Orthodox Church

Three Ways to Sing the Psalms

The troubling trends in America’s ‘Calvinist revival’

Quotes

“If the Church survives in the West as a tiny and despised community, let her attend to the authenticity of her own life: Let her cultivate Eucharist and its associated practices of mutual care, with the world viewing this strange body.”
-Robert Jenson (in First Things May 2014)

“Internet addiction is a form of gluttony, not for food but for data.”
-Vigen Guroian

“I want to be in a church of the faint hearted…who feel the wretchedness of their sins and who believe in the forgiveness of sins.”
-Martin Luther

“God is not in any genus, including that most generic genus of all, namely being. He is not one thing or individual — however supreme — among many. Rather, God is, in Aquinas’s pithy Latin phrase, esse ipsum subsistens, the sheer act of being itself.”
-Fr. Robert Barron

“God has a finely tuned sense of narrative, and sees the wonderful symmetry in having the entire salvation history of the race acted out, like a fractal equation, writ small, writ large, writ in blood and in tears, in the individual lives of each of His human creatures.”
-Melinda Selmys

“Creatures do not so much have a relationship to God; they are relationship to God. Nothing in a creature exists independently of, or prior to, God’s creative act, and hence no creature stands, as it were, over and against God, simply in a relationship to God. Instead every aspect of a creature’s being is already constituted by God’s creative will. This is why Meister Eckhart, the great medieval mystic, could say that the best metaphor for the spiritual life is not so much the climbing of a holy mountain in order to get to a distant God, but rather the “sinking into” God.”
— Fr. Robert Barron

“Late modern society is principally concerned with purchasing things, in ever greater abundance and variety, and so has to strive to fabricate an ever greater number of desires to gratify, and to abolish as many limits and prohibitions upon desire as it can. Such a society is already implicitly atheist and so must slowly but relentlessly apply itself to the dissolution of transcendent values. It cannot allow ultimate goods to distract us from proximate goods. Our sacred writ is advertising, our piety is shopping, our highest devotion is private choice. God and the soul too often hinder the purely acquisitive longings upon which the market depends, and confront us with values that stand in stark rivalry to the only truly substantial value at the center of the social universe: the price tag.”
- David Bentley Hart

sufjan ballet

Quote: Sufjan Stevens on Ballet and Artistic Ego

That’s what convinced me that ballet was important. It is all about absence of self — there is no ego in it, even though there is extreme self-consciousness. Ballet is like proof of the existence of God, whereas my art is proof of the existence of me. It made me understand how selfish and boring it can be to make art that is all about yourself.

-Sufjan Stevens in a recent interview for the New York Times

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Peter Leithart is on fire.

I’m on board! However, the challenge to Leithart’s proposal in praxis will hover around authority and further exposition of what the future holds for the concept of Sola Scriptura. In other words, who will constitute the “classical Protestant” Magisterium? I think Rome still has the upper hand in this regard for those of us still tempted to further our trek towards Rome/the East. My hope is that a return to a classical Protestant understanding of Sola Scriptura would mean a return to the Great Tradition of interpretation and liturgical practice (as Leithart is encouraging). But, this will have to be a mass return (no pun intended) in order for classical Protestantism to avoid becoming another tribe within the mess. Kyrie Eleison. It will take a large group of churches deciding to submit to the same historical liturgical forms/reforms in order to move this dream forward. Kyrie Eleison. Leithart brilliantly lays out a baseline of essential practices. These practices find their source in the broad stream of orthodox interpretation of the Scriptural narrative. These are hemmed in by the Great Tradition rooted in the Nicene Creed. Lex orandi, lex credendi. This will not be a revolution of belief, but of sustained practice and submission. It is the submission part that may be hardest for us in America. Kyrie Eleison.

Leithart’s follow up responses to the above discussion:

 

Another controversial post from Leithart along these same lines:

http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2013/11/the-end-of-protestantism

An article by Rev. Rich Bledsoe titled “Outgrowing Protestant Adolescence”

http://trinityhouseinstitute.com/outgrowing-protestant-adolescence/

Graham Sutherland. crucifixion

Poem: “The Stations of the Cross – XI. Jesus is Nailed to the Cross” by James Matthew Wilson

via First Things (April 2014)

The Stations of the Cross

XI. Jesus is Nailed to the Cross

For boys who pull the wings off beetles

Or prick their sisters’ backs with needles,

They spread his hand to take the nail.

 

For we who meet in dark motels

To clasp a stranger to ourselves,

His palm split as they drove the nail.

 

You, the one who frisked through her purse,

When she stepped out to find the nurse,

For you they placed a second nail.

 

While I got drunk this afternoon,

A child’s skull was torn from the womb,

Its cries rung in the hammered nail.

 

This whole world is a pile of skulls.

We like it so, lest days grow dull.

Watch them brace his feet for the nail!

 

For us, who keep our kitchens clean,

Who’d never have ourselves thought mean,

We had them drive the final nail.

 

And set him hanging, his fists bleeding,

While we went shopping, shooting, feeding,

And in his shadow pared our nails.

-James Matthew Wilson