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).
In 1712, in Aldersgate Street, London, John Wesley’s heart was “strangely warmed.” So Wesley reports, and so began the charismatic movement within the Church of England that led to the founding of the Methodist Church, with Wesley as its founder, of course.
What had happened is what often happened: the Church of England, founded by Radical Protestant Martin Luther (motto: “nailing shit to church doors since 1517”) had began ritualistic, with worship services featuring rote prayers, blindly recited every Sunday. Wesley saw a need for a “warming up” transformation of the stale and tired (from his viewpoint) Church of England.
I wonder if the same thing has happened to A.A., or at least my local version of A.A., or at least the meetings I regularly go to.
Hard to imagine a charismatic movement happening within A.A., harder still to imagine me leading it. (And even harder to imagine what picture I’ll attach to this post.)
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.”
Right, right, right — my blog has gone all to hell if I’m actually writing about the weather. But no, I have two things on my mind, which I’ll share with you forthwith. (Always wanted to write a sentence using “forthwith”!)
The first thing is, thankful to a benevolent Creator for living in Florida this week, as the weather mounts to catastrophe in many other parts of the country, looking especially drastic and dire in Georgia, the state above me, and both North & South Carolina, just north of Georgia. I’m lucky that my life has not been affected in any way, really, by the current weather situation; gone out running three mornings this week, cycling the same three days.
The second reason I’m posting tonight is to share this remarkable photo with you. It’s from a Slate live blog on the weather — Twitter poster Eric Halthaus
Not only do we have gridlock on what might be an interstate, but we have a car on fire, etc. I’m particularly taken with the woman walking away from the scene (and her stranded car, no doubt) talking on the phone, likely updating family or friends and seeking what help is available.
Someone needs to help out there; someone needs to take an interest. Let’s all check our news sources tonight and tomorrow to see if help arrived at the crisis in Raleigh, NC.
This story goes back 20 years or so in my life. I had a friend named Michelle, whom I met at a conference. So she was an English teacher — well, a “writing coach,” as she put it. She’d devised a scheme whereby her writing classes were more like training for sports events, where her students were like a team of which she was the coach.
We lived hundred of miles apart, and there was email even back in 1994 (a new-ish thing). But, believe it or not, we wrote paper letters to each other. (Wish I’d kept some; sigh.) By 1997-98, I was heavily into developing computer applications for my English classes, made in software called Asymetrix Multimedia Toolbook — my first one was “How To Read a Poem,” and it took a poem and hyperlinked it abundantly to commentary\explanation. In fact, the husband of one of my colleagues, who was a Sports Physiology professor, saw it and commented that he wished there was a Toolbook explanation app for every poem.
At the time, I was heavily involved with taking my daughter Becca ice skating, which involved a 90-mile trip to Jacksonville 2-3 times a week. Also with developing Toolbooks for all my classes, associate with each writing assignment. I got a sabbatical, and an opportunity arose to go up to New Jersey and work for ADP in Roseland, developing Toolbooks for their HR and Payroll software. Read more
Acting on a recommendation from my good friend Sam, I Netflixed Short Term 12, a little movie from this past year that was completely overlooked in all the Big-Movie Hoo-Hah that’s surrounded the recent Academy Award nominations (following the Golden Globe awards).
It’s about a short-term residential foster facility that cares for its roster foster kids– not sure if I ever figured out why these kids weren’t with regular foster families. Maybe that was tried and didn’t work out. Anyway, the kids in Short Term 12 are all damaged to some degree, as you’d expect.
The main characters are two counselors, Grace and Mason, who are themselves in a relationship (in fact, Grace is pregnant). Mason is played by John Gallagher, Jr., Grace by Brie Larson, and what a surprise I got when I looked at her Internet Movie Data Base (imdb) page. She is listed as having 10 award nominations and 10 wins — I’ve never seen that before. Every award (and they’re small ones, like Austin Film Critics Award), as befits an actress in small movies) led to her winning that award. Unprecedented.
I’m attracted, to be sure, by a certain genre of mystical, overheated Catholic-oriented movies — like today’s subject, Stigmata, but also The Mission, The Third Miracle, The Exorcist.
Stigmata was released in 1999, stars Patricia Arquette and Gabriel Byrne, was directed by Rupert Wainwright, certainly didn’t make box-office millions, but has gained a second life on HBO, video, etc. The poster for the movie luridly takes an image of Patricia Arquette in extremis from the movie (crown of thorns, bloody wrists) and adds the blurb, “The messenger must be silenced.” Well, fair enough, considering the Vatican authorities’ investigation into her case, but on the other hand, “Oh, C’mon.”
The blurb makes the movie out to be yet another opus dei expose of the hollow core of the Roman Catholic church, yet again out to stifle any evidence of the miraculous. And yes, the arc of the movie does follow that line, but that’s not what interests me.
What interests me is Frankie Paige, and her struggles. She lives in New York City, cuts hair, hangs out in rather loud clubs, drinks a lot, goes home with guys she barely knows. In sum, Frankie is in trouble. Early in the movie, she confides to a friend that she might be pregnant, and in the following scene has some kind of fit in the subway — it’s a screaming fit, scares everybody in the car with her, and involves visions of herself being tortured. She ends up in the hospital, with the marks of nails having been driven through her wrists. She’s put on suicide watch, which she objects to: “You think I did this to myself? I’d never do this to myself, I’m a happy person. Ask anyone!” Her doctor also thinks you might have epilepsy and tells her she wasn’t pregnant.
Gabriel Byrne arrives on the scene soon after (we’ve been introduced to him already, in the context of a miracle in Brazil). He’s a scientist\priest, a Vatican investigator whose job is basically to debunk miracles.
You can probably see where this story line is going, more or less has to go. But Byrne’s character, Father Andrew Kiernan, says something interesting early on: “Frankie, the stigmata is manifested in people who are in deep spiritual pain.” And that’s Frankie exactly.
The remainder of the movie works out Frankie’s increasing downward slide, her troubling visions and fits, Fr. Kiernan’s efforts to help her. It all ends pretty explosively, demons and fire, etc. — but one point of the Frankie story seems to be to introduce the Gospel of Thomas, a “sayings gospel” found at Nag Hammadi, the Dead Sea Scroll site. The Gospel of Thomas perhaps predates the Synoptic Gospels and definitely predates the Gospel of John. It consists of no narrative but only sayings attributed to Jesus, including one Frankie is quite taken with transmitting (writing it in an Aramaic dialect on her bedroom wall, speaking it out loud during her fits): “If you remove a stone I will be there; look under a log and you will find me.”
The over-arching point, for Frankie anyway, is that the Kingdom of Heaven is inside us, around us — not in another dimension and for another time but her and now.
Scholars and Church authorities are as-yet undecided on the provenance and the authority of Thomas’s Gospel, but it’s always a wonderful thing to find a new text from the middle First Century.
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.
Don’t mean “dementia,” really, which is a medical term. What I really mean is “dementedness,” which for me is when people act like they’re nuts. (“Nuts” is not a psychiatric diagnosis, to be sure — but I’m not a psychiatrist.) Crazy, demented.
So, as the picture shows, stormy weather is always a possibility, and stormy times have to be gone through. A good friend of mine, Bill, called about an hour ago, drunk and at home (again–this seems to happen every few weeks or so). Tough talking to him when he’s all slurry, and just making an excuse and hanging up isn’t really an option — he needs some help, and the least I can do is talk to him for half an hour. And that’s what I did. (And now it’s the next morning, and I talked to him again — he’s a little better today.)
Upsetting when this happens, but it reminds me of all the times that my friends and family had to deal with me when I was in my cups, large and small. (Or I imagine they did — no memory of it.)
So I took my dog Siouxie for a walk, then called another friend in the program, Tom, when I got back. He knows Bill pretty well, Twelfth-Stepped him once, understands and sympathizes. Good to talk with Tom — I see him 4 or 5 times a week at meetings, we usually talk (sometimes for quite awhile), but this is the first time I’ve phoned him. Maybe it’s good for me to talk to another alcoholic, whether he’s drunk or sober; maybe it’s good for me to reach out and ask for help.
The blessing here is that God gives me the opportunity to help others, which is a way of helping me.