Monday, July 23, 2007

More on Latin: Public Response

Lisa Takeuch Cullen's short opinion piece, "I Confess, I Want Latin," (link) can be found on the last page of the July 30 issue of Time magazine. Her reason is simple: "I want to hear Mass in a language I don't understand because too often I don't like what I hear in English." She tells of growing up the daughter of a laicized priest and a Japanese woman, and sitting through Masses in an unknown language. Cullen enjoyed the experience, she says, because it was meditative: it compelled her to slow down and think about God.

The English Masses she would later attend stand in sharp contrast to this, because she had to sit and listen to a priest dictate the congregation's political involvement and pontificate on "controversial" and divisive issues. She grew tired of hearing sermons taken from from the priest's Netflix queue (zing!). She longs for a return to sacred space in the liturgy, and desires to hear comfortable words "in a world unmoored by violence and uncertainty." Indeed, I am sympathetic to some of her arguments, particularly when she pleads for Padre's film choices to take a backseat to Eucharistic devotion: "With your back to the congregation and speaking in a dead language, you find it difficult to tell me how to vote."

She pleads, "Allow me to experience the joy of communion without the anguish of our modern day differences. Bring back the Latin and bring back an embattled believer."

Let's take 'er down. Though I'm not a Roman Catholic, I think you'll see shortly why I bothered with this.

The Good

I think Cullen is right about one thing: there are better sources for moral avatars than inane Disney films. If somebody's going to really listen to you talk about God for 20 minutes every week (or even half-listen), surely one can do better than offer a version of the New Testament according to Eddie Izzard: "Don't do bad things, only do good things, never put a sock in a toaster, never put jam on a magnet, and never lean over on a Tuesday..."

When a priest says Mass and reads the Gospels aloud, he has already created an imaginative world in which to invite people to see themselves. What the hell does he need a film for?

The Bad

Honestly, I think this woman has been to as many Latin Masses as I have: zero. But from what I've read in history and liturgical rubrics and such, I'm pretty sure that sermons are always in the vernacular, and I'm pretty sure that any bishop worth his salt would beat down a presbyter guilty of political opining or even extemporaneous speech during the consecration. Therefore, some of Cullen's cuter comments don't make any sense: one could still hear a bad sermon or a "political" sermon at a Latin Mass, and no priest is going to be sermonizing while at the altar, anyway.

The Ugly

It is not the purpose and end of religion for it to be a comfort to those in need of it. The Christian narrative is a story that subverts and displaces other stories. If one wishes to engage in Christian practice - particularly the liturgy, which can and should crack open imagination like a bolt of lightening - one should open oneself to the possibility that other stories will be assaulted, and make much less sense before long.

One of those stories is the separation - even the alienation - of one's "spiritual" and "political" commitments. May the Triune God save us from the schizophrenia of modernity!

Cullen's piece is ultimately a paean to consumerist religion: I want a particular good that the Church can offer me, and in exchange I'm willing to do them the favor of consuming that good. I am not willing to offer my self, my imagination, or even, in Cullen's view, my full attention.

I'm sure any Christian pastor would be pleased to help someone like Cullen enter a Christian fellowship, share life with the Body of Christ, and begin the work of being transformed by the renewing of one's mind - but not on the terms she has offered.


RANDOM GUY said...

i think the brod is full of u said she has more than likly bin to "zero" mass's in latin...and even then...maby she should finaly be able to understand what the paster is preaching the sence that u cant truly beleiv or stop and think about god...when u dont even know who god is and what this being is like and what this being is about...if u dont know what gods word can u follow it? can u follow him?...and its saying somthing when the only time latin is spoken is at a cathelic mass....its a dead language...maby it should stay dead...its not like ther lutheran...and fear change lol...let your followers hear what u have to offer them...not what they want to beleiv they are hearing...becaos if u are ignorant of his word...then you should not follow it...thats like trying to use a map in a language you do not know to try and get some wair.

RANDOM GUY said...

kyle do i have to re type that last coment again..sence it dident apear...or was it offencive in some way?...and u did not aprove?

Kyle said...

Nah, I was just asleep.

And yes, I did find her perspective odd, but not entirely surprising - I know lots of people in my parents generation look at religion in America as something they "buy into," and sometimes literally, in order to get comfort of some kind.

Fr Chris said...

I think my comment from yesterday must have gotten eaten.

Anyhow, I find your claim that Christianity has nothing to do with comfort fairly bizarre. Comfort is not the only aim of Christianity, but being shown God's love and consolation is part of what makes the Gospel good news! This was very evident in the Epistle yesterday during the Office: "just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ." (2 Cor. 1:3-7)

Cullen does have the experience of the TLM wrong, and her desire just for comfort is suspect. (If she's being called to false conversion — from the fallen world to the Republican Party, for instance, a call one does hear from many a pulpit these days — then her stance is understandable if a bit misguided.) But the desire for comfort in the context of discipleship that reforms one's life is not inappropriate.

Kyle said...

Yah, this moderation stuff is bullcrap, but it's where we are right now. I think blogger ate it the first time, you know I appreciate your comments. :0)

I'll respond to this later. In the meantime, I have books to sell...

RANDOM GUY said...

i dont beleiv I or kyle claimed that christianity has nothing to do with confort i mearly said it should not be the only reason that you are a christian...and in this sence...yes i do beleiv that christianity does aim for all that great jazz...and i would not use the word aim actuly...that makes it sound like it is planed or a decicive action exicuted in "one" derection....and yes i know that i should not be attacking your use of words...when i can bairly spell the words i know lol...and back to your coment are u doing man...YOUR SELLING BIBLES!?!...whats rong with you? should be spreading the word of god..NOT SELLING IT!?!...your a sick twisted man...u know im j/k...i just assumed that u were selling bibles...sence you deal with the word of god so much...not realy...any way plz dont make me type my point again becaos i made a bad joke...i hurt my back today...swimming in the ocean...and they put me on some wierd musle i probly will not remeber my opion by tomarro...any way god bless.

chad said...

hmmm...the idea of comfort.

As much as I don't like to mention the duality of sacred/secular I think that there is a difference between what mans names as comfort and what God is offering to us.

To us comfort means relaxation, a cool drink, or a day at the beach. This is a passive sort of comfort that I do think is what people desire often when they have a consumer view of church.

When we read the words of the psalmist we become a part of the pleading for God's comfort, and I doubt that is a day at the dead sea with a guided fishing trip.

This reminds me of the image of being hidden under the wings of God, a comfort that is founded in safety.

Kyle said...

"But the desire for comfort in the context of discipleship that reforms one's life is not inappropriate."

Absolutely, Chris, and I think that says it very well. My sentence, "It is not the purpose and end of religion to be a comfort..." was intended very literally: Comfort as such is not the point of the Christian religion. Redemption is, and that certainly includes comfort, in just the way you describe it. I'd have done well to acknowledge that, and next time I will.

I stand by my prior "instructions for worship leaders," (I'm sure you read those, haha) but I am realizing its very popular to come down hard on *any trace of sentimental, affective religion.* And I really think that's not a good or pastoral way to be. I need to quit leaning in that direction, for sure.


Anonymous said...

I realize I am a bit late on this posting but I have been far too busy swimming about like an amphibious mexican boy to even have time for the internet (aside from myspace)

I must admit, at first I found myself sympathetic to this woman's point of view but than, after re-reading her opinions and your critique of them, I no longer feel that her point was all that valid. Christ gave us faith and modernity told/tells us a story about "religion" that is absolutely foreign to the early christians. There is no seperation between one's political and religious views, rather, they are one and the same.

The question of comfort is a tricky one. There must first be a definition of what comfort is and what that means for the christian. I enjoy being warm in the winter and cool in the summer. This is a "good" comfort. But what many people refer to as "comfort" is nothing more than a bit of warmed-over apathy with an american flag stamped on the label. That is bad "comfort." Christ certainly came to bring us comfort, a life to the fullest, as St. John records. In fact, a name for God in the English language has been "Comforter" in the past. So, the question is not so much about comfort in the liturgy but moreso about apathy.

The situation for those of us in The Episcopal Church is far worse than what laypersons in Catholicism are experiencing in regard to "politics" in the sermon. Thankfully, I have been blessed enough to be in a parish where our adoration of the sacrament takes priority over our splintered political opinions of how the world's governments ought to be. We are very aware of what is happening in the world and there are groups of people we do sympathize with but if we are going to be offering our help or support to any of these, it comes as followers of Christ, not members of whatever political party or social group we identify with the most. This may not be the situation with most churches in the United States, but it was I am being formed by, in, and with.

The Latin Mass question is not too important to me, as I am not a Roman. But even if I were, thanks be to God for diversity and beauty but let's please not get our panties up in a wad over this, perhaps the smallest of details.

Brandon said...

Kyle, I don't think I could have said anything better than what you have about Cullen's opinion piece.

Kyle said...

Cheers, guys.

RANDOM GUY said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kyle said...

Screw that bullshit.