Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Just Things

Ordinary Time

The CatholicGeek has some thoughts on silence today.


I'm working at LTS today until about three in the afternoon, if any of you BSK critters want to say hello.

My dad doesn't like to wear his glasses. As a result, he can't tell the difference between chapstick, a sharpie pen, and a highlighter. Think on that for a moment.

My family Thanksgiving was fun.

You might have seen the recent article in the Louisville Courier-Journal about the city's evangelical megachurches. Something I wish they'd discussed more was the emerging practice of creating megachurch franchises out of existing smaller churches. A friend told me a few months ago of how his parents' former church (they now attended the megachurch) had been given an "offer they couldn't refuse" - they didn't have enough money to keep full time pastors, so the megachurch was willing to buy out their property and give them a full-time minister, so long as they dissolved their governing board, let their deacons go, didn't baptize anyone. All baptisms would take place at the megachurch's main campus.

It's franchising. Seriously.

And don't get me started on Witherington's "cult of personality" comment. He's dead on.

Update 1. Oh, and check out this glowing review of Tom Wright's Simply Christian and The Last Word in the Christian Century.

Update 2. It gets better. You want to read this interview with Barbara R. Rossing, author of The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation.
What should Christians be saying about eschatology and what should ministers be teaching?

There is a sense of an end in the New Testament. I don't think the New Testament affirms a world without end. To the extent that that notion has crept into our hymnody it's a mistake. Nonetheless, our job is to care for the world and to believe that this physical earth is not about to be destroyed.

What is it that is coming to an end? That's the question. In Revelation what is described as coming to an end is primarily the oikoumene, which I translate as "imperial world," the world under Roman rule. Rome laid claim to the whole oikoumene—the lands and the seas, world without end. It's the word that's used in the Gospel of Luke's Christmas story, for example, in which Caesar Augustus decrees that the whole world should be enrolled in a census. Revelation proclaims that this imperial world must come to an end.

If we translate oikoumene as "imperial world" in a verse such as Revelation 3:10, then the "hour of trial that is coming upon the whole oikoumene" is not at all what rapture proponents claim—a general end-times tribulation that God will inflict during the earth's final seven years—but rather a courtroom scene in which God puts the empire on trial.

Two other Greek words, for earth (ge) and world (kosmos), are used more positively in the New Testament. A key verse is Revelation 11:18 in which God says, "I'm going to destroy the destroyers of the earth," not "I'm going to destroy the earth." The word for earth there is ge, which is used some 80 times in Revelation, sometimes positively, sometimes negatively. God created the earth and still loves it, even though it also falls under judgment. The passages that refer to oikoumene in the New Testament are all negative. That is not case with ge or kosmos.
What do my Greek-reading readers think?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

On Hospitality

The Hospitality of God

God welcomes exiles, and creates places of safety and care for those who are lost. God provides a home. Canaan was the first promised land, and now it is and will be the whole earth. Hospitality isn’t just about parties (though parties are important signs of the Kingdom), but about reconciling with enemies and creating safe spaces for those who have none. Being a community of safety and real life restoration is the primary way the Church should understand evangelism, because it is as such a community that it embodies the news about Jesus.

The Hospitality of the Church

What does it mean to be a community? What are the best books about contemporary appropriations of the Benedictine traditions? What do the Benedictines have to teach the Church about showing hospitality? Who are the people for whom the Church is called to make safe spaces?

Living the Good News...

... as a counter-imperial metanarrative.

What does it mean to embody the news that Jesus is Lord of the whole earth? Particularly against our individualistic consumer society, it would mean that we understand ourselves not as individuals seeking to make our way in the world, but members of the Body of Christ. What are the deliberate practices of belonging to one another that post-modern American Christians are engaging in?

What are some of the ways that Christians are telling that story as a holistic, life-changing movement rather than just another way of thinking private thoughts about God?

More on Evangelism

What does it look like, and what does it mean to share the news that God has reconciled the world to himself through Jesus Christ? What do we say, and what do we seek to look like when we proclaim with our lips as well as our lives that Jesus is King? What are the good and bad ways of understanding truth as an experience?

Much of what passes for ‘evangelism’ at the present time assumes that persons should place high value on personal decisions, are minimally influenced by their social relationships, and if a foundationalist argument for the existence of a personal god can be made to “make sense,” people will “accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and savior.” If you’ve met me, you know I don’t have a lot of use for that. What is the goal of such modernist evangelism? What version of the Jesus story is put on offer? What are the philosophical foundations that such evangelists want people to believe, and what do they want their converts to do? Can any part of it be good?

I think any post-modern evangelism that is consistent with the biblical witness and the life to which God calls the church is going to present itself as an invitation to the Kingdom living that the Church is actually embodying: in essence, that some of the benefits of God’s ultimate salvation is being experienced and shared by the Church here and now, and that in friendship with the Church, individuals can see the goodness of life with Jesus in his Church.

I’m going to talk about God’s mission for his world, and how the Church fits into that. Lots of you are familiar with how this works already.

I also believe that when the Church understands that the Church is the most important medium for the Gospel message, it will place a higher value on the spiritual formation of its members as part of its commitment to evangelism.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Key to the War on Christmas

Ordinary Time

Or, Why the Culture Wars are stupid.

Okay, here's the deal about my War on Christmas. As many of you realize, there's a lot of hype this time of year about there being a "liberal" war on Christmas. There are a lot of Christians and nominal Christians in our culture that insist left-wingers are trying to secularize this commemoration of the Incarnation. They also believe that Christians need to "take a stand" and "fight for their rights" - which apparently includes being wished a "merry Christmas" by Wal-Mart.

That is asinine. Let me tell you why.
1. I don't think it's possible to really "secularize" Christmas. Whether or not Walmart or Target the White House or any other major retailer or public entity wants to acknowledge that I celebrate the Christian Feast Day is of no concern to me at all. It is not possible for such entities to either enhance or degrade one's commemoration of the Feast of the Incarnation. If one imagines that it is, one has a Big Problem.

2. It ought to be a bigger concern to Christians that other Christians are commemorating the Feast of the Incarnation (a.k.a. "Christ's Mass," or "Christmas") by engaging in a great orgy of consumerism, buying things for one another that they often do not really need. Let's exchange gifts, but perhaps read the Book of Amos, while we're at it?

3. Most people in the United States who aren't active Christians (and some who are) do and will continue to celebrate Christmas by that name and in this way, but will not make any explicitly religious observances along with it. Might our energies be better spent in encouraging people to learn about Christmas and what it means in the Christian faith rather than insisting that atheists wish us and everybody else a "Merry Christmas" rather than a mild and generically friendly "happy holidays"? At least the people saying "happy holidays" are being friendly. What kind of person gets angry in response to that? I'm not sure we're really loving people well when we can be the kind of people who get mad at them for giving us what we consider to be an inappropriate "hello." Get a grip, folks.

That's why I wrote, "don't wish me a merry Christmas, but rather a blessed Feast of the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ." It's the same thing, and therefore a ridiculous statement - just like the insistence that someone wish me a Merry Christmas rather than Happy Holidays. It's satire.

4. The only legitimate way for Christians to "take a stand" in any culture is to love and worship the Trinitarian God, and to love, pray for, and even die for their enemies. Even if there's some great liberal plot to steal Christmas, the only way that the Gospel and Christian history honor is to - you guessed it - love and pray for our enemies while praising our God. Never, never, never, to return anger, hatred, or indifference in kind.

5. It is entirely contradictory to the Gospel for Christians to be talking about their "rights," and what the culture at large "owes" them. In accord with a Christian worldview, we pray and sing, "All things come of thee, O Lord," - all good things are gifts of our God, and any evil that befalls us serves as a test. This is a mysterious thing, but when do we endure trials (if you are really so short-sighted as to compare being wished "happy holidays" with the trials of martyrs), the appropriate question is to ask, "what kind of person does the Lord seek to make me in the midst of this?" If "secularists" are truly attacking us, we are commanded to pray, not to return evil for evil. Once again, it is the way of the Gospel to treat enemies as if they were not enemies.

6. There is no sense in connecting corporate policy decisions about whether to wish the American public "happy holidays" or "merry Christmas" with the wider concerns of the Kingdom of God, which prefers to shun consumerism, heal broken human lives, and engage in the transformation and recreation of God's world. No sense whatsoever.
Again, for similar thinking, see also

Joshua Hearne: War on Christmas
Dr. Platypus: 9.5 Curmudgeonly Christmas Theses
Theological Intentions: My Two Cents on the "War on Christmas"

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Christians and Muslims...

Ordinary Time

... do not worship the same god.

Just because a particular religion believes there to be one "real" god, doesn't mean they all happen to acknowledge the same god as being the one. You don't suppose that all polytheistic religions keep the same pantheon, do you?

Just because modern day Judaism, Islam, and Christianity claim a connect to a guy named Abraham that people said the (singular) god spoke to doesn't mean it's true in any case.

Here's a bit of Christian Theology 101 for us to consider: Christians don't believe in "God." (Well, I don't, anyway.) Christians believe in the Trinitarian god who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Christians do not say, here is an idea of "God." Jesus is divine, so our idea of that "God" will tell us what Jesus is like. No, no, no! Christians believe that Jesus fully reveals the Trinitarian god: the tradition we have received about Jesus, the second "person" of the Trinity, is the foundation of any ideas we're going to have about "God."

Therefore, any statement about "God" that doesn't start with "Jesus is/was _________ so therefore God is _________," is opposed to any Christian theological statement. And yes, it is needful and right to move on and talk about the connection of that god to the god of the Old Testament, and even to use "reason" to sort out what that god might be like, but there is no valid starting place in Christian theology other than Jesus.

Any god that cannot be said to be like Jesus the Christ, and manifested in Jesus the Christ is a different god than the Christian god. Any god that is not understood as three persons in one substance is a different god than the Christian god.

That does not mean that other religious folks who worship these other gods are bad people. I don't hate them. I certainly don't dislike them for that reason, either. I would never be unkind to anyone for that reason. It doesn't mean we can't have inter-faith dialogue, and it doesn't mean we have no common ground at all. It just means that we worship and serve different gods.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Wacky Episcopalians

Ordinary Time

Oh, no she didn't. Amy Welborn: "An interview that will go down in infamy." It's about Heresiarch Kate's interview in the New York Times Magazine. And the papists are pissed...

It reminds me of what our brother Stan said about making a "fetish of the family," but on the other side. The thing is, I've known many Episcopalians who are very excited about Baptists becoming unenthusiastic mainline Christians, but don't have the foggiest notion how or why anyone would convert to Christianity as such.

Oh, and Stan's point in a nutshell was this: when Christians make a fetish of the family - growing it, "protecting" it - as some kind of end in itself, that's how you can tell they don't believe in God anymore, because Christians believe that God expands and renews the Church by conversion. However, what if you're an Episcopalian and you don't care for reproduction or evangelism...? I guess you lose a million members in 20 years...

Update: Oh, wait, there's more...

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Ordinary Time

Yesterday I

made breakfast
prayed the office with my housemate
cleaned my room while watching Battlestar Galactica (very efficient, I am)
went to LTS
listened to an Internet Monk podcast
read Bonhoeffer
read Mark
read Lauren Winner
read Jean Vanier
took a nap
had dinner with two Jesses
discussed atonement theology
returned phone calls

Today I

ate breakfast with friends
read the first 7 pages of Mike's chapter
answered e-mail

Today I will

go to LTS
print notes
have Pad Thai with a friend
go to the bank
go to the post office
read more of Jean Vanier
read more of Lauren Winner
read two chapters in Mark
do laundry
pray the office
make tuna melts for dinner

Saturday, November 11, 2006

House Churches

Just to note, I hope you're following the discussions on two recent posts, in which some of the aspects of how VBCC thinks and acts as a church are getting teased out.

Community and Growth
Church and Witness
Being a Diaspora Christian

Friday, November 10, 2006

Church and Witness

If you've not read the little post I wrote on Christian community yesterday, do check it out. Following that discussion, I've been thinking about just what witness my own community of Vine and Branches offers the wider church and the culture at large.

I think it offers a witness for the community of Christ, and against religiosity. We meet in a living room. We involve ourselves in one anothers' lives and learn to care for one another, and to be a blessing to our neighbors. We don't have big religious events. We don't offer free turkeys to the first 200 families, or whatever. We seek to be a cohesive Christian community that steadily offers the gift of presence and care to the people around us as well to each other. No big worship services or pep rallies for Jesus. And there is absolutely no chance that 150 new people are going to come to our liturgy next week to "get excited about the Lord" in some vague way. But what we are - and I think this is far more important, or else we wouldn't be this - is a group of people that will know your name. When people visit, they're going to be spoken with. Folks get to know us a little, and we get to know them. There can be no slipping in to for the dispensing of religious goods and services, and then slipping out again anonymously. It's a big risk, and it's very deeply real. I think that's one of the reason what we are actually intimidates many Christians, whether they're lapsed or not. It's not the "big things for God" that make or break churches or the Christian life as a whole: it's the little ways that we dedicate ourselves to our common discipleship and God's ongoing redemption of his world. The little things are an every day thing, not special occasions - that's why it's a real transforming experience, and not merely a religious high.

As for the wider culture, we are a Christian community that seeks to love others well. It's important to me that folks who are not Christians (or who are lapsed Christians) to see us as a blessing to the world around us. I'm not sure if we've got that wired, or if we ever will, but it's a matter of process.

Do come back at me on this; I'm interested to know what you think. Also, you might talk to me about your own church experience, and even introduce yourself if you've not done so before. Are you involved with a Christian community? What's the biggest reason you're involved with the community you are? If you aren't, what's the primary reason you aren't? And no, I'm not going to harass you, but I'm curious.

Peace be with you all, and thanks for reading.

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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Community and Growth

Ordinary Time

I've started reading Jean Vanier's Community and Growth. I'm finding it... provocative... on a personal level. So far he's talking about how people in our culture find their security and sense of identity through accomplishment in the absence of belonging and acceptance. One notion that's resonating with me particularly well is that living as part of a real community on a day-to-day basis is going to show us how really unloving we are:
"As we live with people daily, all the anger, hatred, jealousies and fear of others, also the need to dominate, to run away or to hide, seem to rise up ... While we are alone, we could believe we loved everyone. Now that we are with others, living with them all the time, we realize how incapable we are of loving, how much we deny to others, how closed in on ourselves we are" (p.26).
So many of us, when we begin to have really deep friendships, realize how terrifically bad we are at loving. It's not just us - it's all of us. We have to learn to stop protecting ourselves and learn instead to keep open hearts and risk getting hurt. The trick is that many people don't find out how bad they are - and therefore never get good at it - because they don't change their lives so as to let people in that closely. After all, how much easier is it to live with such a personal distance (even if we live and work and play alongside others) that we don't cause offense or get offended ourselves?

I am convinced that it is the work of the Evil One that anyone would live really alone. Humans were created to be in communion with God and one another. I think immediately of two kind of isolation: one can live alone, and share a household with no one, or live with others but remain closed off, to keep one's own counsel, and to really live only for oneself.

I am trying to live counter to that kind of culture that is everywhere in our society and our churches. I have insisted that my own church be a primary "point of reference" in the way I live my life. I don't attend the Liturgy because I "get something out of it" (not that I don't), but because I'm dedicated to being with those people in that deeply meaningful way. And do you know what? Enacting that dedication, moving it from theory to concrete practice, is transformative for me. It makes me more concretely and practically God's, moving from being the overseer and director of my own life to being homo ecclesiasticus.

We aren't together, either my church or the people in my household, because of common affinities or interests. Those things are there, and those things help, but we have been called to be with one another and to learn to love one another well. Only when we learn to make one another a steady point of reference, choosing to deal with those people on a regular basis and to take completely for granted that they have a place in our lives, are we going to be the kind of community that Jesus is shaping us into. That's what cooperation with Jesus looks like.

So what do you think?

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Real Ultimate Power?

Ordinary Time

Jared sent this my way a little while ago: REAL ULTIMATE ANGLO-CATHOLIC POWER!

I have a pork shoulder to cook for dinner. Any suggestions?

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Importance of Being Polite

Ordinary Time

I'm working a short shift at the bookstore today. I like the bookstore.

I had a job I didn't like, once. A co-worker was leaving, so there was a reception at the workplace. I was cornered by an older woman I'd always seen as rude.
"So has this job been a good experience for you, Kyle?"

"Well, it's definitely been an interesting experience. I've seen some things I wouldn't have otherwise, and I've learned a lot."

"But would you say you've had a good experience overall?"

"I've met some people I'll always remember, and I've been able to do some helpful thinking about my life and career direction..."

"Yes, but has it been good? Are you glad you came?"
Just then someone else walked up to join the conversation. I got out of it by asking that person a leading question, and excused myself before it could get back 'round to me again.

I thought the exchange belonged in an awkward dinner party scene in a whimsical Victorian play.

Freedom of Speech?

Ordinary Time

You may have heard of the upcoming documentary on the Dixie Chicks, "Shut Up and Sing." The producers of the piece fancy it a commentary on the "sad state of freedom of speech in this country" or something asinine like that.

Let me explain something to those of you who have clearly never read the United States Constitution. It insists that (within certain boundaries I don't feel like enumerating, but it has to do with treason and shouting 'fire' in crowded buildings and things like that) the Government may not interfere with an individual's right to political protest and self-expression.

It has nothing to do whatever with how private citizens may or must react to the bitter ramblings of another private citizen. Contrary to popular belief (or at least the convictions of the Dixie Chicks) the United States Constitution does not compel me to buy their albums even if they piss me off. If the Dixie Chicks say that they are embarrassed by President Bush, the liberal democratic tradition does not insist that I must say, "Well, it's great they have an opinion!" It encourages me to say that the Dixie Chicks are unpatriotic and stupid, simply because I believe it.

The US Constitution does not compel their dwindling fan base not to be alienated by the foolish things they say. If the FBI knocked on their doors, we could talk about "freedom of speech" issues. But if they say something that's offensive to approximately 49% of the US population (and probably 99.56% of country-western fans) and they choose not to purchase their albums, this is not a "freedom of speech" issue. It's an issue of words and actions carrying consequences.

Anybody who uses the phrases "Dixie Chicks" and "freedom of expression" in the same sentence without irony or outright mockery is a moron who needs to take 9th grade civics again.

Full stop.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Election Day Edition

Willibrord, Bishop and Missionary

Why I Will Vote

No, I don't believe that any human government will bring about God's rule on earth. I don't need to believe that in order to vote. The American Empire invites me to exercise a small voice in its leadership. And I want to influence things just a little.

Alternatively, here's why Christians perhaps ought not vote...

... also Alan Creech: "white flag"

How I Will Vote

I'm going to vote a straight Democratic ballot. I don't care about where these people stand on abortion, particularly because I'm not aware of any upcoming legislation that's going to further liberalize the laws. What I do know is that contrary to what a lot of religious Republicans would like to believe, there isn't a single Republican Senator that's ready to sacrifice his or her career to set up a federal amendment to limit or outlaw abortion. Doesn't it strike you as a little sick that there's widespread support in this country for a ban on gay marriage or civil unions, but nobody's going to make it illegal to kill a gestating human? The anti-abortion stances of such politicians are not in any sense "pro-life," but merely a strange breed of conservatism that doesn't really have anything to do with a Christian commitment.

I want the United States to have leaders who are honest and responsible about the Iraqi Occupation. The Bush Administration and its remaining Republican supporters clearly are not. I want to give Democratic candidates a shot.

I'm voting for Newberry in Lexington's mayoral election. The present mayor takes the Bush administration's cue: "I've not made a single mistake in office." Yah, except for the city council, you know, hating her.

I'm voting for the condemnation of the Kentucky American water company. It's foreign-owned; I'd prefer they at least call it the Franco-German water company, or whatever. That's where the profits go. I prefer local control and administration of local resources, and for the money it generates to go back into the local economy.

Update: I almost didn't get to vote. I've mislaid my drivers license, and the lady at the poll was very suspicious of my United States passport. She nearly turned me away, but between my University of Oxford student ID and my VISA card decided that counted as legitimate. Just not the US Passport.

She said if I needed ID, I could go downtown and have them make one for me.

Go figure.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Uh oh. A Rant.

William Temple


Hm, evolution and stuff, at Real Live Preacher. Nice essay (HT: Addison Road).

Oh, and I don't use swear words much, but I have absolutely no moral qualms about using them. Just so you know.

If you cared. But you know what's sad? I've seen seminarians who don't know shit about Christology argue about that to the point of ridiculousness. Stupids. People are all too happy to offend the people they think are pagans by packaging their version of the gospel in the most offensive ways imaginable, but all hell will come down on you if you dare to use a naughty word and offend some white-haired old biddy who loves the Lord. Or doesn't love the Lord, for that matter.

Hm, I think it's bedtime.

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William Temple

We stopped at the grocery today, and among the usual purchases, we picked up two hachiya persimmons and a pomegranate. Happily, I have Dr. Richter's Fresh Produce Guide to tell me what to do with them. I also picked up a "What To Do with a Pomegranate" pamphlet. I am not making that up.

While at work (at the bookstore), I came across a religious tract in the Gay and Lesbian section. I found one next to Sun Tzu's Art of War about a week ago in the Eastern Religions section.

I threw them away, in case you were going to ask.

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Monday Links

William Temple

Antony's Attic: Imperial History of the Middle East

Ben Myers: African Creed

Richard at Sub Ratione Dei checks out Proclaim Peace: Christian Pacificism from Unexpected Quarters, and reviews Faith and Politics After Christendom: The Church as Movement for Anarchy.

The Internet Monk, Michael Spencer, has recommended Olsen's Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities.

Also, Sven realizes that "the biblical way to defeat evil and violence is" Way to go, Wayne Grudem.

The Internet Monk offers wise words regarding the Haggard controversy here and especially here:
Many of today’s pastors are entrepreneurs, not spiritual men at all. The are running organizations, living in front of an audience, talking about style and technology. They are shallow, ambitious and over-worked. Their families are on the stage. They are supposed to fill a dozen major roles. They are celebrities and motivational speakers. Peterson rightly points out that God is merciful to show us this is not what a pastor is to be or what a church is to do. Lord, deliver us from what we want, and show us true shepherds and sheep of Christ.

There’s a reason for all the ministerial moral failure: they are burned out middle aged men who don’t know what is happening to them. ...
I don't think that a married Catholic priesthood would lessen the incidences of abused children or ministerial affairs, though Witherington is trying to defend that notion this week (HT: Ben). If he could have had a woman, he wouldn't have had a kid? No. However, he does make some good points about the need to reverse a church culture that sees sexuality generally as bad:
Its time for the whole church to stop sending mixed messages like "Sex is dirty and unholy, save it for the one you really love and marry". The message needs to be "sex is a beautiful and precious gift of God. There is nothing remotely unholy about it. Indeed it is such a precious gift that it should indeed be saved for the context of unconditional love and an unlimited life time commitment." Unfortunately, however this great truth about human intimacy is one even much of the church and even too much of the clergy can't handle as things now stand. So what shall we do about this malaise? Inquiring minds want to know.
I maintain that there's a lot of house cleaning along those lines to be done in evangelical churches before we start fixing up Rome.

Can we say also that Haggard's problem is that his church has held him to an unrealistic standard of monogamy in a stiflingly heteronormative culture? No, I didn't think so.

Sunday, November 05, 2006


Ordinary Time
22nd Sunday After Pentecost

The cool kids were doing this awhile back...

Pretty exciting.

Desk Meme

Ordinary Time

Ben tagged me way back when, but I've gotten around to it. Ta da!

Messy desk. This was when I was writing my last essay.

Nice, neat desk. Isn't it great?

Thursday, November 02, 2006


All Souls Day

As this is All Souls Day, when we pray for the ongoing purification of those in Purgatory (and if we're smart, the purging that we're supposed to be getting now), I present to you a list. Come and listen to wisdom, my friends.

Update: Purgatory Explained. Check out Aquilina's "Soul Food" for the history.

5 Ways I Would Change the Contemporary American Church

1. No more TV preachers. I am convinced that no good comes of them. And even if it did, Joel Osteen burns my nostrils so badly that I don't think it even makes up for it.

2. Protestant rapprochement with Rome. Most of the Protestants I know only think of the Catholic Church in terms of medieval stereotypes. It's perfectly valid and even needful to have calm, fair, accurate criticisms of another church, but at least base it on something real.

Case in point: how many real Protestants really know that papal infallibility doesn't mean that the Pope is believed to be sinless?

3. I'd like to see church-going people stop all of their religious activities and vet them all according to one single, all-important question: will the thing I'm doing really make me (and us!) more like Jesus?

4. No more labels. Most of these people out there don't know what liberal really means, or what a heretic really is.

See also

Why "Liberal" Really is a Dirty Word and Heretics: Watch Your Damned Language.

5. Quit insisting that people affirm certain code words as a litmus test for biblical orthodoxy. Instead, let's look at the lived practice of the Christian commitment, and then ask whether somebody seems to have a high view of Scripture or not.

See also Nothing Could Be Closer to the Truth

What do you think? Am I on or off? Do you have a list?

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Book Review: The Great Mortality

Ordinary Time
All Saints

The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time, by John Kelly. HarperCollins, 2005. 364pp.

John Kelly’s history of the Black Death is carefully researched and eminently readable. The first chapters examine the origins of the plague and discuss how it was transmitted from fleas to humans and carried across Europe by black rats and international trade. The scientific discussions are well-written for a lay audience, giving the reader a good understanding of how and why the plague spread as quickly as it did. The work is fast-paced and rich with anecdotes about medical practices of the middle ages and the reflections of those who lived through it – or did not.

I find Kelly’s account of medieval anti-Semitism to be particularly challenging. It is a sad fact of Church history that very soon after the separation of church and synagogue that debate gave way to vitriol and violence between the Jewish communities of the Diaspora the increasingly Gentile Christian churches. Teachers and leaders on both sides were threatened by the other because of the competition for converts (or reverts), and several church Fathers stand guilty for supporting or even encouraging violence against Jews as “Christ Killers.”

It’s preachy life-lesson time.

As a result of this culture in Christendom, anytime something disastrous happened to Christian Europe, it was certainly the fault of the Jews. Pope Clement VI condemned the killings as well as the hysteria and imputation of collective guilt upon which they were based, but this seemed to matter little. Holy Week pogroms were a traditional observance for Christian Europe, which would reach their height in the Final Solution of Nazi Germany.

Because of this shameful and inexcusable history, I am increasingly convinced that any observance or remembrance of Jesus’ execution must be made in the wider context of the New Testament witness, which insists that the Church must bear these wounds in its own Body. Jesus came to suffer, and so the Church must suffer. Jesus did not seek vengeance, and neither may the Church that bears his name. This is a question of what we consider the Church to be, at its very foundation. It is a suffering body like that of Jesus, or it is nothing that has anything to do with God or his Christ.

Further, any notion that Jews then or Jews now have some kind of group complicity in the events surrounding Jesus’ execution is just stupid. For whatever else it might say, the New Testament is convinced that God wanted it to happen, and that it would have happened one way or another.

Finally, anti-semitism is stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

The other life lesson? Man cannot and God does not guarantee the health and survival of any civilization. All of the accomplishments we pride ourselves on, and the progress we hope to make as a cohesive society can be rolled away pretty quickly. Ultimately, remembering how the 14th Century saw mortality rates around 30% or as high as 50% during these various plague outbreaks makes me far more grateful for the people in my life who aren’t dying of something.