I go to an A.A. meeting Saturday morning, been doing it for years — it’s called “10th & 11th Step Meditation” meeting. There are some readings, about 10 minutes of meditation, and then a general discussion on a topic taken from the floor — technically, it should focus on the 10th or 11th Steps, but the group doesn’t really seem to care.
So, one of our members raised his hand and suggested that we discuss the part we like best in The Lord’s Prayer (which, as a Catholic school boy in grades 1-6, we usually called “The Our Father,” based on its opening words).
It was an unusual topic for in A.A. meeting in my town (Gainesville, FL), because we usually end meetings by forming a circle, holding hands, calling to memory our members who are struggling, and then saying Reinhold Neibuhr’s Serenity Pray (or at least the first three lines of its ten lines). The Saturday morning meeting is the only one I can think of (or go to regularly) that ends with the Lord’s Prayer.
Well, no one raised a hand to say, “The Lord’s Prayer gives me the screaming jim-jams, since it’s a Christian prayer spoken by Jesus, occurring in the Gospel of Matthew, which is part of the Christian New Testament.” It’s possible that someone thought it — often members mention their trouble with “the God thing”– but didn’t raise a hand.
My dear friend B said her favorite part is, “on Earth as it is in Heaven.” Reminds her, she said, that she has to live in an earthly body and struggle with earthly issues, but that heavenly life is possible, with recovery and grace. My friend J said he always has to laugh at “Lead us not into temptation” because it reminds him of a friend who asked, “Why would I pray that God doesn’t lead me into Penn Station?” Y’know, what he said versus what I heard — like the kid who thought the hymn was about Gladly the Cross-Eyed Bear instead of “Gladly the Cross I’d Bear.”
My favorite part, which I didn’t get to share (50 people at the meeting) is, “Thy Kingdom come.” Nice to think that God’s kingdom is one of our possible futures. Some would say that the Kingdom is already here — it’s in each of us.
I started reading Nadia Bolz-Weber’s blog (Sarcastic Lutheran, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/) ages ago, no doubt put in touch with it by another religious blogger I read, Rachel Held Evans (who wrote Evolving in Monkey Town as well as A Year of Biblical Womanhood).
Hey, what the world needs is a sarcastic Lutheran, maybe more sarcastic Lutherans, Episcopalians, Baptists, and Catholics. And I enjoy reading her blog, which regularly posts her Sunday sermons, in both a written and audio version (usually takes them to the middle or end of the week to get the Sunday sermon up).
Bolz-Weber is a recovering alcoholic, drug user, biker, and general hoodlum who turned her life around and came to the pastorate somewhat late in life. She founded the House for All Sinners and Saints in Boulder, Colorado, and writes about her church extensively in her blog and in her book Pastrix (which is the insulting way to refer to a woman pastor, and insult used principally by those who believe that a woman pastor is wrong, is anathema, heretical, non-Biblical, etc.).
I loaned her more-recent book, Salvation on the Small Screen, to my friend Sam, and his enthusiasm about it generated this post. In Salvation on the Small Screen, Nadia sets herself the project of watching 24 hours of Christian television, inviting friends to watch with her, and writing about it without being too snarky (which seem to me a close-synonym to “sarcastic”). Sam called me up mid-read to enthuse about the book, and told me that he’d like to have a book club at his church do the book.
The conversation led me to recall that I had another Nadia book, Pastrix, and to decide that it was time to re-read it. Even more excellent than the first time through, Pastrix is a book about a faith journey by someone who might seem unlikely to end up as a Lutheran pastor. That Nadia ended up as a Lutheran pastor makes me happy; wish she was in my town and that I could go to her church.
Let’s start tonight with a disclaimer: this post will be about Biblical interpretation, so those who read my blog for comments about books or movies might want to skip it.
In my good friend Rachel Held Evans’ blog, she does Sunday Superlatives every week, and this one from Richard Beck of “Experimental Theology” interested me. He writes,
The problem at the heart of Protestantism is that the bible is unable to produce consensus. This isn’t a theological claim. This is an empirical fact.
Sola scriptura produces pluralism. The “bible alone” creates doctrinal diversity. Biblical literalism proliferates churches.
And five-hundred years of Protestantism is Exhibit A.
The only way to get a single, unified church, as the Catholics will tell you, isn’t the bible. What you need, rather, is a magisterium, a teaching authority that says, for everyone, “this is what the bible says.”
And that’s why there is one Catholic church and tens, thousands or tens-of-thousands of Protestant churches (depending upon how you count them).
Back to me: I grew up in the Roman Catholic church, so I know a thing or two about authority. I’m currently allied with the Episcopal Church, which doesn’t have a magisterium or a Pope (the Archbishop of Canterbury being more the guy who chairs the meeting than the guy who makes the rules or appoints cardinals — the Episcopal Church has no cardinals, though we do have bishops).
As I’ve said to people dozens (hundreds?) of times, many of them my students in literature classes, the written word doesn’t interpret itself. The long Jewish\rabbinical tradition of midrash illustrates the ongoing controversy about what this or that place in the Scripture might actually be saying and what it might mean. Same with poems, short stories, and plays.
On to the more-recent past. In a church I used to go to, St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in High Springs, Florida, we experienced a schism in around 2004-2005 in regard to the New Hampshire church elevating Gene Robinson, a gay priest, to the position of bishop. I always thought that the situation was pretty much New Hampshire’s business, but my pastor thought that what they’d done violated “the clear meaning of Scripture.” When she said that, I laughed so hard to I nearly passed the sandwich I was eating through my nose — the goal of class clowns everywhere. My point is, Scripture’s meaning is anything but clear, and both is and has to be the subject of interpretation, argument, disagreement, dispute. That’s just the way it is, with literature, Scripture, any interpretation of the written or spoken word — including letters, emails, conversation, bumper stickers, billboards, and blogs (to name just a few).
I forgot to mention to my group yesterday, April 15, that it was Leonardo da Vinci’s birthday. He was born in 1452, so he’d be 552 years old if he hadn’t been ripped untimely from the earth. (Kidding — Leonardo lived to the ripe old age 0f 67, and accomplished a good deal, didn’t he?)
If he had just painted Mona Lisa, he’d have a place in art history (though I also put up a picture of my personal Leonardo fave, Madonna of the Rocks. The Last Supper‘s pretty good, too). And then, in his spare time invented the helicopter and submarine, cast some monster cannons for the endless wars of his time, and on and on — he was an unstoppable creator and thinker.
And sadly, served as a hinge for Dan Brown’s miserable book, The da Vinvi Code. Among the million other things (in fact, just about everything) Brown got wrong, we don’t refer to Leonarda as da Vinci. Vinci is where Leonardo was from — it’s a town in Italy, and the “da Vinci” formula is a way to distinguish the famous painter from any other Leonardo. Duh.
I once went to church with a guy named Pete. Good guy, maybe a little outta touch with art, literature, history, and culture. He’s in his 50’s, been away from school awhile, doesn’t have a college degree. One day, at coffee hour after church (and this was soon after The da Vinci Code hit the bookstores and airwaves), Pete says to me, “Did you know Jesus was married?”
Oh, my. The Jesus was married meme has been around for, like, 2,000 years, at varying levels of virulence. It maybe started during Jesus’s lifetime, but nothing about his marriage is mentioned in the Gospels, which could mean that he wasn’t or that it wasn’t considered important by the Gospel writers. (Or it was a ginormous cover-up, which is Brown’s take one it — a cover-up by evil Church schemers who have always operated sub rosa in the Church. Not that Jesus’s putative marriage needed to be covered up for any particular spiritual or religious reason.) Recently, there’s the 1982 book, Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln. It’s an unofficial follow-up to three BBC documentaries. In it, the authors hypothesize that Jesus married Mary Magdelene, had children, and that these children or their descendants emigrated to what is now southern France.
A huge bestseller, Holy Blood, Holy Grail was roundly trashed by historians and scholars from related fields. But nothing stops the steamroller that is Dan Brown.
So, happy belated birthday, Leonardo. I apologize on behalf of the 20th Century. And the 21st. As Ripley asked in Aliens, as you, Leonardo, could ask, “Have IQ’s dropped drastically while I’ve been gone”?
This upcoming Sunday is Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, of course. I’ve been doing my best to have a holy and productive Lent, trying to follow some tips from Nadia Bolz-Weber and The House for All Sinners and Saints (http://www.houseforall.org/). Didn’t do them all (couldn’t do a WHOLE DAY of Internet fasting), or didn’t do them all in order. But I did, I guess 26 of the 28 suggestions that have come along so far.
Looking forward to Palm Sunday — I’m the Altar Server then at St. Michael’s, a job I like a lot and get a lot out of. Then during the following Holy Week, I’ll go to services during the week on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, Friday noon for Stations of the Cross. (I’m actually serving on Thursday, aka Maundy Thursday, and on Friday for Stations.
About Maundy Thursday — it gets its name from the Latin word mandatum. The Scripture for Thursday during Holy Week Jesus at dinner with his disciples, washing their feet and then after dinner saying the Words of Institution that create the Eucharist Sacrament (“This is my body, this is my blood” — insanely provocative words considering that he and the disciples were practicing Jews in the 1st Century and had a profound horror about blood and corpses).
And then he gives the disciples a new commandment (mandatum): “Love one another, as I have loved you.” Not insanely provocative, but definitely a challenge for the disciples, then and now.
At our church, we’ll have foot washing. Nicely humbling to wash someone else’s feet (it might be someone I barely know, perhaps an elderly woman or man). Nicely humbling to have my own feet washed — again by someone I don’t really know, or maybe Rich, my pastor.
Lent begins today, with Ash Wednesday celebrated here in Gainesville, Fl and pretty much all over the world. At my little church, St. Michael’s Episcopal, our service was at 6 P.M. (I just got home). Though it was sparsely attended, it was a moving service (much about penitence, some confession of sin), with the imposition of ashes accomplished to our few, our happy few, our band of brothers and sisters.
In my childhood, growing up in a Roman Catholic family and attending Catholic school (St. John of the Cross Elementary School), a lot was made of “What are you giving up for Lent?” Typical was candy or desserts, or any other kind of treats — giving up liver, broccoli, or homework was severely frowned upon.
In adulthood, giving something up, especially something like candy (hardly ever eat it) or ice cream (that could work) doesn’t seem so apropos. I thought I’d be guided by Isaiah 58, which we read tonight at our service: Isaiah writes, in part (and remember that he’s channeling\quoting the Lord): “Is this not the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to let the oppressed go free…?”
And, “Is it not to share your bread with the poor…?” You catch the drift — house the homeless, clothe the naked, spend time with your family.
If I do that, Isaiah continues, “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn.”
Sunday’s sermon at my church, St. Michael’s Episcopal Church here in Gainesville, Fl, was about salt.
Yes, about salt. Well, one of the scripture readings for the day was the Gospel passage where Jesus tells his followers that they’re the salt of the earth, the light of the world. He notes then that when salt loses its taste, it’s not much good. And that there’s a tendency to put a light under a bushel, where it does no good. (Heard a good sermon once on how he says,
“The light of the world,” NOT “the light of the church.”)
Father Rich noted that salt has been much in the news lately, what with all the winter storms. Salt, ya know, is needed for highways, to melt the snow. Read more
Today’s Gospel reading in church, and the subject of Father Rich’s sermon, was the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt soon after Jesus’s birth — to escape King Herod, who had decided to secure his kingship and defend against this king whose birth he’d heard about by killing all the babies in his area of Israel.
Joseph, Jesus’s earthly father, was warned in a dream to flee to Egypt. And it wasn’t the first time his life had been directed by a dream; when his fiancee, Mary, turned up pregnant, he decided to divorce her quietly (being a kind man, not wishing to humiliate her). Then, in a dream, he learned that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit, not by an earthly rival to Joseph, and that his destiny was to care for her and for the child. Being a good man, Joseph did as he was told, did what was clearly God’s will.
When he was told in a third dream that it was safe to return from Egypt, he came back, settled in Nazareth, taught Jesus a trade, made sure he was educated in the Scriptures (Jesus could find just what he was looking for in a scroll of the Book of Isaiah, a neat trick that shows his familiarity with scrolls).
The first Joseph, in the Book of Genesis, Isaac’s youngest son (the coat-of-many-colors Joseph) was also associated with dreams. He amazed Pharaoh by interpreting dreams, which led to his elevation to what was essentially Pharaoh’s Chancellor — by which he saved both the Egyptians and his own family from starvation and fulfilled God’s will.
Father Rich pointed out that Joseph the father of Jesus fulfilled his destiny simply by doing what he was told to do — by angels, in a dream.
Ran into old friend Linda at the grocery story the other day. She and I used to work together at Santa Fe College, and she asked how retirement was for me (I retired from teaching English last August 15th, 2o12). I said fine, and she asked what I’d been doing.
So I told her about this blog, illustrating with my last blog post, “The Sex Pistols Sermon,” which is about what the title says and also about Abraham in the Book of Genesis and Nihilism. After I told Linda this, she responded that she couldn’t do something like that. Why not? I asked.
“I’m not that deep,” said Linda.
“I always thought that you were about as deep as everyone else,” I replied.
Turns out that Linda feels that she’s not much of a natural writer (despite working a whole career as a professor and then an academic advisor in Health Programs at Santa Fe College); writing, she told me, doesn’t come easy to her. And wrapping her mind around something pop-culturey like the Sex Pistols and how that related to the Book of Genesis and Nihilism wasn’t easy (hey, wasn’t easy for me either — as I explained in the post I’m referring to, the post previous to this one, Father Richard did the heavy lifting, thinking-wise).
After we said goodbye, and since then, I’ve been considering what it means to be “deep,” and whether I am, and whether or not I or anyone else would want to be.
Or is it more like the old joke: Deep down, I’m shallow? No, no, no, it’s not that — it’s that my pattern of thinking is simply my pattern of thinking, neither deep nor shallow. When I was an English professor, sometimes I’d think (or even say), make a few connections, draw a few insights, and I’m through for the week.
Or I could simply be An Existential Hero — profound but inarticulate. (And then it would be hard to see that I’m profound — but being misunderstood like that would be ever-so-existential.)