Monday, January 28, 2008

Still Thinking About the Church

We've just passed the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. I wanted to write, but really felt as if I have nothing to contribute to such a thing. I've been thinking and reading on the subject of ecclesiology for some time now (more thinking than reading lately), and it always seems to be a very divisive subject.

I have no use for Christians who take deep pride in their particular spiritual pedigree or denomination. In this region that pride is often in the form of their supposed lack of a "denomination." "I'm a non-denominational Christian," many will say gleefully - as if that were possible or desirable. Perhaps it is, but I cannot treat it as such a foregone conclusion.

Why even think about "ecclesiology" - what makes the churches "the Church" at all? If a Christian shares perspective with most forms of Protestantism, there is little reason indeed. In contemporary Christian life, it is commonly agreed that Jesus did not "found" any church at all, and that our churches are our own little man-made organizations that try to carry out the work of spreading the gospel and converting the heathen more efficient. I know this sounds glib, but that's what it comes down to: that the church exists because it is useful to our version of the Gospel (which we believe to be a separate thing from the church) simply because Jesus wants his people to "meet together."

On the other hand, what if Jesus didn't come to impart some information about God and a revised moral code? What if he didn't come with a way for us to have an individual personal relationship with God that we could practice with other people if we wanted to? What if Jesus really did found a community that really did have a real and physical existence in the world? What if being joined to Jesus through baptism and being joined to this real physical community really is the same thing, the same Godward movement that makes us alive and saves us from death?

Upon Christian initiation, one becomes part of Christ - in Pauline language, the Body of Christ. While I understand that one should avoid an ultimate identification of Christ and those who make up the Church (it is full of sinners, after all, for Jesus loves the riff-raff), we must say that if Jesus founded a "community of salvation," that an impaired communion with that Church entails an impaired communion with Christ himself. If that is a worthy question and a valid concern, our ideas about what makes up "the Church" really matter very much.

The bottom line is this: if the bedrock of the Christian life and God's work of transforming love in the world is a "personal relationship with Jesus," then theories about "the Church" are non-essential issues. However, if our membership in that community determines in some way our relatedness to God and his work of salvation for the world, than it is a first-order theological problem.

Ta Da!

I am now one of 5600 Americans without a credit card.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

It always surprises me

... how many people imagine that publishers will sell $7.99 Mass Market paperback versions of the hot new thriller at the same time that they release the $25.98 hardcover.

I don't think they realize that publishers and writers and marketing staff and booksellers do it to make a living; it's not some kind of hobby everyone does for fun, this book-writing stuff.

It's always a strange moment when an old woman complains even as she pays me for her books that Amazon is so much cheaper. I considered telling the last one that since no, Amazon does not and would not offer any discount on her three mass market paperbacks, she was in truth saving on shipping. Most of you people probably don't read those, and I only own 4 in my entire library,* but now you know. I'd rather pay more and not get ink on my hands, but then again I'm not sitting in a dark room alone counting my pennies all night, either.

(I usually ignore things that old unpleasant customers say. One quickly learns that there is no good or right answer, if by "right," we mean, will make the bitter old woman happy. She is, after all, buying old woman pornography for a reason.)

I'm cleaning the house today. Probably.

*Susan Howatch's Glittering Images, an old copy of Catch-22, A Farewell to Arms, and The Moviegoer by Percy.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


I overheard Father Matthews saying something before Mass last week about "shedding the rags of popery." Right when the little vein in my forehead started throbbing, I realized that he know I was standing behind him.

Just because I'm spastic doesn't mean it's okay for the other kids to tease me like that.

Our monastery cat, Thunder, is stuck in the back of my desk chair again. He has really sharp, long claws, and they look very regal. He likes to climb up my chair, or attack our ratty old sofa sometimes. The problem is that he gets stuck, and cannot extricate his regal little claws from his large and unwieldy prey. It's pretty funny.

The cat just knocked over my little idol statue of Saint Patrick again. Okay, so maybe he's not the best monastery cat. But he is otherwise very pious. (We have little competitions.)

I just got back from Waffle House with my co-workers. Too much fun.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Marriage and Hypocrisy

I was just looking over the October 2007 issue of Christianity Today this evening (I've been busy, as you know) and was really struck by an article that called for better ministry to "stepfamilies." The point of the article is that instead of passing judgement upon divorced and remarried persons, churches should simply accept that everyone makes mistakes and welcome them into full fellowship.

I've heard of that before: it's called "welcoming and affirming," but it's usually applied to something just a little bit different.
"In many cases, divorce is indefensible, bringing serious consequences to adults and children. It should not be taken lightly. Yet to deny somone full forgiveness and the right to live life to the fullest in Jesus Christ denies the healing power of the Cross."
Denying the Christian legitimacy of a divorce and remarriage is a denial of the healing power of the cross? That's a stunning accusation. There's not a single nod in the article to the idea that Christian discipleship requires some basic decisions for self-denial.

Ron Deal's article, "Redeeming the Remarried" is a nearly identical to most arguments for churches celebrating same-sex unions. One of the really fun things about talking with evangelical Christians who are in favor of serial monogamy is that by the time they offer all of their conditions and caveats, they've left the door wide open in their theological house for the legitimation of same-sex unions.

Of course I also watch people go in one of two ways with this (if they don't ignore it altogether): 1) since we're obviously not going to be so draconian as to turn back the clock on our practices of divorce and remarriage, we should bless same sex unions, or 2) maybe if we're going to claim a theology of marriage, perhaps we should have one and quit legitimating the notion that everybody gets to define the meaning and boundaries of their own relationships with no real reference to the Christian tradition.

Option 1 would at least be honest, and option 2 would be a miracle.