Friday, April 29, 2005

So Far Away from Home....

I'm away from my resources at home (i.e., my Bibles), and I'm supposed to teach a Sunday School class on a topic of my choosing at week's end (or beginning, whichever you prefer), so I'm mulling over the topic of hospitality, and I come across this article by Jack Hiatte (via a link to a link to a link to a link; ain't the Internets wonderful?), which includes this passage that sets me thinking:
Here is a quote from Jesus that you almost never hear: "What do you think?" It's right there in the Bible. Jesus asks this question all the time.

One parable Jesus taught was this one, from Matthew: "What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work in the vineyard today.' And he answered, 'I will not,' but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, 'I go, sir,' but did not go." Jesus' disciples all strenuously raised their hands. They knew the answer! The first son was the most virtuous!

Whereupon Jesus (whose sense of humor is underrated) replied: "Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you."
Since I don't have my Bibles handy, I can't tell you where in Matthew this parable occurs, but that doesn't really matter. What caught my eye was the treatment of it (Jesus has a sense of humor?! Well, of course he does!), and that final statement: "The tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you."

Maybe I should explain that "tax collectors" in 1st century Palestine worked for the Romans, which made them "traitors" to their people. Prostitutes, of course, are shunned by everyone except their clients. And how does this connect to hospitality?

Well, I'm going to be teaching from Luke 7:36-50, the anointing story. The woman who "anoints" Jesus doesn't anoint him, actually; not the way a king or honored guest would be anointed. She performs what can only be described as an erotic act, because that's the way it was used in Greek literature: she washes Jesus feet with her tears (her own moisture), and dries them with her hair (something usually bound and kept hidden; and again, a very intimate gesture). The euphemism of "feet" for genitalia is not to be overlooked in the symbolism of the act, either. This is almost a symbolic act of oral sex; which Jesus turns into an act of hospitality (he tells his host: "You provided no water to wash my feet, but she has washed them with her tears."). He goes on to tell her, who has shown no faith at all: "Your faith has saved you. Go in peace."

Well, perhaps she has shown 'faith.' She has acted hospitably, in Jesus' interpretation, toward God. Or another human being, which amounts to the same thing.

But how is the kingdom of heaven like that? That's the point of the parables, of course. Not to lay down prescriptions, but to provoke discernment, new ways of seeing, openness of heart. As Mr. Hiatt points out, nobody ever clamors for the posting of the Beatitudes. He has his answer as to why that is, but perhaps we should simply be asking: why not? Why not the Beatitudes from Luke, and in a newer, clearer translation, such as the "Scholar's Version" crafted by the Jesus Seminar? The word "blessed" in that translation is replaced with one they argue is more accurate and true to the original Greek: "Congratulations!" Try it, and see if it doesn't make a difference.

"Congratulations, you poor! Congratulations, you hungry! Congratulations, you who are mourning!"

And Luke, of course, includes the curses, the "woes" in most translations. But let's be more honest about those, too: "Damn you rich! Damn you who are full! Damn you who laugh now!"

Any wonder we don't see those posted in prominent public places? And questions as to which are more important to us? Any answers as to what those Beatitudes really mean?

What do you think?

Thursday, April 28, 2005

"Nuklear physics ain't so new, and it ain't so clear."--Howland Owl

We need Walt Kelly again. We miss him more than we realize. Perhaps he could help us make sense of the current political situation, since he lived through the McCarthy Era, beginning to end.

History is a hard thing to hold onto. I was too young for McCarthy, but I understood "the Bomb," which brought nuclear physics into everyday conversation, even if we weren't so clear on what it was. My daughter, almost 13 now, has no memory of "the Bomb" at all, and can't imagine a world under that Sword of Damocles. How to tell her?

But those who don't know history seem doomed to repeat it; or perhaps Marx was right, and history repeats itself, coming once as tragedy, the second time as farce. Now we are seeing the farce; but this time, the energy is aimed, not at the imagined enemies "across the water," or at shadows under the bed, or the creatures of our own nightmares, but at what Josh Marshall has aptly described as "the soft tissue of the law."

It was in law school that I realized what a fragile structure the law really is. It is backed only by the agreement of those bound by it. Police officers follow the law because they accept its dictates. Bailiffs in court obey the judge because they accept the system of justice as a whole. Politicians and public officials are bound by court rulings on the Constitutionality of laws, or the interpretation of statues, because they accept the system as a whole. It is all part of an agreement to behave in a certain way, not unlike the rules of etiquette. The only thing that really keeps the structure in place and the wheels turning, is our agreement that it should be done this way and that, at the end of the day, we accept the consequences for objecting to that process. "Civil disobedience" is civil precisely because it accepts responsibility for defying the system at its most fundamental level, the level of just authority. Criminals violate the system at that level but are punished, and so the system maintains its authority. But who watches the watchers?

The "nuclear option" in the Senate is not that the filibuster rule will be suspended for the nomination of judges; it is the way the suspension will take place. A "super majority" of 67 votes is needed under current Senate rules to suspend the filibuster. But who enforces those Senate rules? The Senate itself. The "nuclear option" is not the suspension of the filibuster; it is the idea that a simple majority of 51 can suspend that rule, because that's the way the Bush Administration wants it. It is no more and no less than the idea that judges should be put on the bench to enforce the rule of law by abrogating the very agreement that is the foundation of the rule of law. That's the "option," and that's why it's "nuclear." It poisons the system at its very roots.

Richard Nixon is our standard for Presidential malfeasance and criminality; but even Nixon feared the anesthetic of sunlight and exposure. Even Nixon knew that the full weight of society, as expressed in the enforcement of its laws, would be used against him. Bush seems to have no such fear, and no such understanding. And what he wants, is to undo the justice system and the constitutional system and the governmental system, all in the name of "justice" and "the Constitution" and "governance." Which would be supremely ironic, if it weren't dangerously farcical. History comes once as tragedy, the second time as farce. This time, it's coming as black comedy; the darkest, the most cynical and pessimistic possible. This time it comes attacking our governmental system, proclaiming in virtuous tones that we are not virtuous, arguing as a governement of laws, not of men, that we should in fact be a government of men, not of laws.

And the only question left is: will it be permitted? The polls do not support it, but there is good reason to wonder if the polls matter anymore. There is more than sufficient reason to be suspicious about electronic voting devices. There is more than sufficient reason to wonder how deep the rot goes, how extensive the desire for power runs, how corrupted and polluted the system already is. It is no longer paranoia to wonder: is this the end of the line, or the tip of a very dirty iceberg?

This kind of abuse of power ain't so new either; and the extent of its reach, ain't so clear.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Context is everything

I received the lectionary texts for this Sunday morning from my church, and had the reading from Peter on my mind when I had a chance to post this morning. However, the lectionary text I found on-line was different from the one that had set me thinking, and while I was reading one text, I was thinking about the other, which set up some cognitive dissonance I couldn't quite resolve, try as I might. Now I see why. Here is the text I had in mind:

1 Peter 3:8-18
All of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called--that you might inherit a blessing. For "Those who desire life and desire to see good days, let them keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit; let them turn away from evil and do good; let them seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil." Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed.

Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God's will, than to suffer for doing evil. For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.
Now there's a different kettle of fish, and the emphasis where I was trying to place it this morning: unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. And repaying evil, with a blessing. Which I think speaks clearly to the question of exclusion.

Why do we ever exclude anyone, except to repay them for "evil"? Either for what they have done already, or what we expect them to do, because we expect some bad, some defiling thing, from them? And how should we repay that, except with a blessing? "Now who will you harm if you are eager to do what is good?" Who, indeed? And where are we allowed to draw the line, and say: "This I cannot do, because even though it is a good, it is not a good I can do?" After all, the story of Abraham is exactly the opposite: Abraham, following the word of God, means to slay Isaac. Following God's word is good, but the result is not. And Jacob cheats Esau, and yet it is Jacob who wrestles with the angel (another good? or bad?) and wins the blessing, though it is the most mixed blessing of all (he earns a new name, Israel, which means "struggles with God"). So God makes good come of evil, or at least of not good, and yet are we ever allowed to decide what is good, and not good? Or are we only to seek the good, and do that always, and take our chance that it is evil?

Which doesn't quite answer either, does it? Except seeking good, is seeking peace; seeking peace and pursuing it. And while excluding people from the circle may seem the pursuit of peace, it is clearly just the opposite.

I prefer the tone of Peter's letter, and of Isaiah, and the Psalm:

When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the LORD will answer them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water. I will put in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive; I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane and the pine together, so that all may see and know, all may consider and understand, that the hand of the LORD has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it. (Isaiah 41:17-20)

Psalm 148:7-14

7 Praise the LORD from the earth,
you sea-monsters and all deeps;

8 Fire and hail, snow and fog,
tempestuous wind, doing his will;

9 Mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars;

10 Wild beasts and all cattle,
creeping things and winged birds;

11 Kings of the earth and all peoples,
princes and all rulers of the world;

12 Young men and maidens,
old and young together.

13 Let them praise the Name of the LORD,
for his Name only is exalted, his splendor is over earth and heaven.

14 He has raised up strength for his people and praise for all his loyal servants,
the children of Israel, a people who are near him. Hallelujah!

Holy, holy, holy

1 Peter 3:13-22
3:13 Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?

3:14 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated,

3:15 but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you;

3:16 yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.

3:17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God's will, than to suffer for doing evil.

3:18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit,

3:19 in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison,

3:20 who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.

3:21 And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you--not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

3:22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

Holiness has always been a vexing problem for Christianity. "Stand away from me, for I am holier than thou," Isaiah commands, and ever since some have taken that as the necessary statement of holiness: that one can be holier than another, and so contaminated by the presence of the unholy. Ironically, the gospels all tell us this was precisely the problem Jesus presented. As Simon the Pharisee says when Jesus allows the prostitute to wash his feet with her tears and dry them with her hair (an explicitly sexual act in 1st century Palestine, something that would earn at least an "R" rating and a condemnation from the FCC if it were to be broadcast on television and understood as it was intended): "If this were truly a holy man, he would know what kind of woman this is who is touching him." And he wouldn't let himself be touched, because to be touched by the unholy is to become defiled and unholy yourself. Jesus even tells a parable about it, one that starts out as a joke about the priest and the Levite and the man left for dead by the robbers. To touch him would make the priest and the Levite "unclean," and yet the Samaritan is, to the poor Jew dying in the ditch, unclean, too. Holiness has always been a vexing problem for Christianity.

And so, this morning, via Athenae, we have this about the Pope and those who are fit, or unfit, to be admitted to the holy sacrament of communion:
The bishop [St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke] and new pope share the same views on many moral and theological issues. For instance, in June, when U.S. bishops released a statement saying lawmakers who consistently supported abortion rights or euthanasia were "cooperating in evil," and could be denied holy Communion - very much Burke's take on the topic - Ratzinger said the statement was "very much in harmony" with his view.
Archbishop Burke, the article notes, is likely to become "the premiere cardinal in America," which prompts Athenae to respond with her inimitable directness and insight:

Just what that town needs, another person navel-gazing and bloviating about easy bubble-gum issues, doling out Pop Church every Sunday, and ignoring as hard as he can the wars being waged by those on the right side of whatever the church's pet issue will be that day.
Holiness is supposed to be a matter of purity, and of honoring the source of purity. The "holy of Holies" in the Temple at Jerusalem was the place where God was wholly present, and to enter that place while unclean was to risk certain annihilation: not from God's wrath, but because, rather like matter and anti-matter in science fiction stories. holiness and uncleanness simply cannot exist together in the same place. The former annihilates the latter. Indeed, the priest who went into the inner sanctum of the Temple did so on only one day a year, and then with a rope tied to his ankle. Should God actually turn God's countenance upon the unfortunate priest, he would be struck dead just from God's holiness (and his necessarily mortal unholiness), and they would have to drag the corpse out.

Jesus supposedly did away with all of that, and showed that God was concerned most with the least and the humblest and even the most unfaithful (the story of the anoininting in Luke puts the lie to any sense of boundaries placed upon God's love and acceptance of those we like to call "God's children.")

The words from 1 Peter don't refute intolerance, and don't even seem to argue expressly for tolerance. But they make an argument based fundmentally on trust, and on the ultimate responsibility of God. It is easy to read those words and justify barring someone from the sacraments, or from the holy presence of God. It is easy to justify what we do in the name of "suffering for good." But even the evangelicals can do that much. The difference is, Peter is telling us to let God take the responsibility, and we need only be responsible to God for our confession.

"Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated." All exercises of power, are ultimately exercised from fear. To not act is to risk pollution, defilement, error. But what error do we fear? Not keeping the Sabbath? "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." Letting the wrong people come to the table? Ironically, Jesus ends the visit of the prostitute with the words of dismissal that give the Mass its name. First he tells her: "Your faith has saved you." (but what faith? A pornographic act is a sign of faith in God?). And then he tells her: "Go in peace." But the blessing Jesus will not withhold, we have to withhold? And we do it, claiming we are doing what is good?

"...but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord." The same Christ who said: "Let the children come to me." The beggars, the orphans, the urchins, the useless mouths that had to be fed until they were old enough to work for the family, the ones who had no real woth in society until they became adults. The same Jesus who said: "Come to me, all of you." The same one who hung out with whores and sinners and tax collectors and beggars and women and anyone who wasn't holy, or special, or even particularly faithful. The same one who didn't seem much interested in our notions of boundaries; and who certainly wasn't ever afraid of doing good by including someone in that the religious authorities said should be left out.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

This pleases me

I love the challenge of boiling down any type of complicated sentiment into something short enough to paste on the bumper of your car.

Today-the human condition:

"Over 25% of human genes are the same as those of a banana"


Why yes, I am easily amused.

God just left-please leave a message

So, I’m skimming through a little essay by Robert Scharlemann on God as Not-Other: Nicholas of Cusa’s De li Non Aliud, because once you get started down that slippery slope of epistemology, ontology and dualism, its damned hard to get out. And, since I enjoy elegant logical arguments, I’m liking the discussion of definition and being, presented in the form of question-answer, used to such clarifying extent in Aquinas’ Summa. For example:

1) Discourse or reason is definition. But why is it called definition? [side note: this follows an extended discussion positing that to know something is to know what it is, and therefore, being is understood through defining] 2) It gets the name “definition” from the act of defining, which defines all things. What defines it in turn? 3) It defines itself, because it does not exclude anything (it excludes nothing). But what is it? 4) It is nothing else than (non aliud quam) what-is-defined (definitium) But what is the defined? 5) The defined is nothing else than nothing else (non aliud quam non aliud). But what is nothing else? 6) Nothing else is nothing else than nothing else (non aliud est non aliud quam non aliud).

The Undefined Definer.

Try this: Can you think or say the word “I” without understanding its meaning as your-self, your being? Cogito ergo sum, which has been understood to mean “I am a thinking thing.,” can perhaps be better translated “Thinking ‘I,’ I am.” Or as, Scharlemann muses: “To forget being [in the translation of Descartes] amounts, in this case, to overlooking that there is at least one word with respect to which one cannot separate essence and existence-the very word “I” is what brings into being the reality of selfhood or self- consciousness. In actual fact, the “I” is then beyond form and nonform, beyond existence and essence, because, strictly speaking, one cannot ascertain what it is without simultaneously ascertaining that it is and, furthermore, one cannot, strictly speaking, say “what” it is but only where and when it is.”

I love this. It reminds me of the Uncertainty Principle. And, of course, leads me to speculate on the “being” of God that is constrained by our use of language to attempt to define God at all. Nicholas winds up defining God as “Not other is not other than not other,” as every “other,” is defined by the “not other” (i.e.: a tree is not other than a tree). First principle, anyone? Very important for a thirteenth century academic, it demonstrates that the pure possibility of definition is Trinitarian in structure, no less.

But just try writing a hymn to the glory of the “Not other.” Doesn’t really sing, does it? I plowed through this essay, only to find my favorite part in the very last footnote on the very last page:

The God of which one thinks, to whom one prays, upon whom one calls, and in whose name one acts or speaks is, then always God-past (just as the self of which I think is a self-past, not the active “I”). Or, to put it more dramatically, the God of metaphysics and religion is always the God who has (just) gone. But the intention of the thought, prayer, adjuration, and invocation is to recall the one who was there when the name was really understood as it was spoken or thought and to expect that one to come again the next time. They are activities of the mean-time, between God-past and God-to-come.

Let us praise God, who is not here, unless we recognize that God is not here, in which case, God is here for us, but not as defined.

Or, maybe I’ll just come into God’s presence with gladness, trusting that God is as here as God was here and God will be here. Even if I can’t wrap my mind around God’s being, by seeking God with my being, I will know God when I know that God knows me. Just don’t ask me how I know…

Monday, April 25, 2005

This says it all.

I actually have a friend who attended Southern in Louisville. He left just before this crowd Mohler speaks for, took over.

If I don't manage to post anything else to day, this will be sufficient. On "Justice Sunday," this is what R. Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, had to say:

"We are not asking for persons merely to be moral," Mohler said. "We want them to be believers in the Lord Jesus Christ."
This is, by Mr. Mohler's lights, actually sound theology. Morals are human, the invention of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas and the like. Believers in Christ cannot err.

Lord help us all.

Who let the dogs out?

Link please

This was buried pretty deep, but I’m almost surprised in today’s climate, that it made it in at all. The money quote, for me, is in bold.

…ideologues on the right have now set their sights on religion, and specifically Christianity, as the means to promote their political agenda. And as the promoters of tomorrow's "Justice Sunday" national telecast have demonstrated, there is no depth to which they won't sink in their campaign to seize the country….
To suggest Democrats are out to get "people of faith" is despicable demagoguery that the truly faithful ought to rise up and reject.
But will that occur in American pulpits tomorrow? The Christian right counts on the religiously timid to keep their mouths shut. So why not exploit religion for their own ends? They will if we let them.
And that's just it. Americans of faith -- and those lacking one -- ought to vigorously resist attempts by power-hungry zealots to impose their religious views on the nation. That means standing up to them at every turn.
It means challenging them when they say of Americans who support a woman's right to choose; the right of two adults to enter into a loving, committed, state-sanctioned, monogamous relationship; the right to pursue science in support of life; the right of the aggrieved to launch aggressive assaults against racism, sexism and homophobia, that they are not legitimate members of the flock. Where do those on the religious right get off thinking they have the right to decide who is in and who is out? Who appointed them sole promoters and defenders of the faith? What makes them think they are more holy and righteous than the rest of us?
They are not now and never will be the final arbiters of Christian beliefs and values. They warrant as much deference as religious leaders as do members of the Ku Klux Klan, who also marched under the cross.

May I please just say that Christians, as a group comprising all denominations who claim that name (regardless of my personal opinion as to their Christianity), are the least persecuted group in America. These spokespersons are not persecuted for being Christians. They are rejected and scorned for being hateful demagogues who project there own issues onto the rest of the world and who live in abject fear of a God of their own creation. There. I said it.
May I also get on my high horse for a moment to amend that statement? In their vision of a theocracy, there is no room for anyone’s God except theirs. Period. Make no mistake-you will only be a Christian if they say you are. Those of us who reject that vision of God as Christians have a dog in this fight. Those of us who reject that vision of God as followers of other faiths and spiritual paths have a dog in this fight. Those of us who reject any vision of God at all have a dog in this fight.
As a person called to the ordained ministry, I am beginning to understand my responsibility to release the hounds.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Biography is History

Well, if this is right, then, unfortunately, so was I.

For all Pope Benedict XVI's decades as a Vatican insider, it may have been the crucible of a university town swept by student radicalism in the late 1960's that definitively shaped the man who now leads the Roman Catholic Church.

During his Bavarian childhood under the Nazis, Joseph Ratzinger became convinced that the moral authority based in Catholic teachings was the sole reliable bulwark against human barbarism, according to friends, associates, and his biographer, John L. Allen Jr.

But while his deep reading and thinking in theology, philosophy, and history were fundamental to development as a theologian, it was the protests of student radicals at Tübingen University - in which he saw an echo of the Nazi totalitarianism he loathed - that seem to have pushed him definitively toward deep conservatism and insistence on unquestioned obedience to the authority of Rome.

When he arrived at Tübingen in southern Germany in 1966, he was widely viewed as a church reformer, a man who wanted to open the church up to dialogue with others in the world.

But in his autobiography, he shows that the Vatican Council also alerted him to what he deemed dangerous liberalizing tendencies from inside the church and to the danger that reform, if not tightly controlled by a guiding authority, can quickly go awry.

"Very clearly, resentment was growing against Rome and against the Curia, which appeared to be the real enemy of everything that was new and progressive," he writes. Academic "specialists," he complains, were encouraging the bishops to accept dubious assumptions. One of these assumptions was "the idea of an ecclesial sovereignty of the people in which the people itself determined what it wants to understand by church." The idea of the "church from below," which led to liberation theology, was being born and, as he puts it, "I became deeply troubled."

He had been recruited by none other than the liberal Swiss theologian Hans Küng, the very man who became, and remains, one of his chief political and theological rivals. The experience of the student revolt seemed to confirm every suspicion that Father Ratzinger already nurtured about liberalizing tendencies and the hidden germ of totalitarianism lurking within revolutionary movements.
"Unfortunately," not because I am a Catholic, or even because I'll be more influenced by the decisions of Pope Benedict XVI than by those of James Dobson. But it proves that William Faulkner was right, and that what he said doesn't just apply to the American South:

"The past isn't over. It isn't even past."

Friday, April 22, 2005

Is That All There Is?

John Lienhard makes an excellent point here, one idea that prompts two others:

The 20th century has given me much, but it's taken as much away. I'd wondered just what [Jack] Thompson is conserving. Now I know. Book repairs are only the vehicle. What he really preserves is the one thing without which old books, and much more, will die off. He's conserving the very arts by which we lived our lives -- until just this century.

Two other thoughts, in two very different directions.

First, technology has certainly taken away as much as it has given. Or perhaps I should be more accurate: we have abandoned a great deal of true value, in pursuit of our shiny new toys. Traditions should be honored not just because they are traditional, not because "we've always done it this way," but because they were a source of life and value to countless generations. We have let technology abstract us from the material world, and called that an improvement on Platonic dualism. But we've misread Plato. Socrates, not unlike the portrayal of Jesus in the gospels, enjoyed eating and drinking and companionship. These things did not get in the way of his recollection (the way off the wheel of reincarnation), but in fact led to it. This world we once knew so intimately was not entirely at odds with us, and struggling with it and using the materials of it, taught us a great deal about our limitations, and the reach of our abilities. It's romanticizing to say it made us better persons; but it's over simplifying to say that all technological changes have only been for the better. We have, as Mr. Lienhard notes here, cut ourselves off from much knowledge and relationship that is good and true and worthwhile. Now, sadly, all we can seem to do is preserve it; we cannot even imagine living it, again. And this applies to spiritual existence as much as material. Once the two were not nearly so easily separated as they are for us today, and that separation is yet another loss.

That's one, this is the other. Technology has given us what seem like god-like powers, so much so that we don't even consider the source of what comes to us, the provenance or origin of the goods we enjoy, consume, use up, toss out, waste and heedlessly destroy. We think we have the power of creation, but we create nothing. We reshape raw materials, and that is all. Ink made from oak gall and linseed oil is a reshaping, too, but using materials that replenish themselves. Our technology has cut us off from the sources of our consumption, the raw materials, and now we imagine they appear from factories or warehouses or internet sites, with no connection to the material plane at all, except when they are in our hands. But we create nothing; we simply use and re-locate and manipulate what is already here.

Consider water: in Texas, one of the largest underground lakes in the world stretches from San Antonio, south of Austin, to West Texas, hundreds of miles away. Both farmers in West Texas, and homeowners in San Antonio, drink from the same source. And while we have the technology to raise thirsty grass in city plots, in Texas or Arizona or Southern California, or to raise thirsty crops in arid conditions, we don't have the technology to do one crucial thing: we can't create water. The Edwards Aquifer is drying up because of this simple reality. Yet we turn a tap, open a spigot, water gushes out: and do we ever think about where it comes from? The supply seems endless, and the water hose in the back yard seems to create it, so why wonder? Why not just enjoy?

But, as Ray Bradbury said once, it is good to wonder. He meant in a different way, and about the splendor of creation. Well, that's a starting point, too. Perhaps it is time to wonder. If our powers were truly god-like, wouldn't we have the power of creation, too? And since we don't, since everything we do, from our ideas to our language to our homes and cars and food and drink, have to come from some source first: shouldn't we stop and think about that source, consider where what is most precious to us came from, and what responsibility that imposes? Consumption, after all, is not about responsibility at all: it's simply about gratification. Is that all there is?

Ecclesia-A work in progress

(This is lengthy, and I appologize. I'd link, but it was sent to me as an e-mail, and I'm not sure how to do that. My snips were an attempt to shorten the post a little-the entire text is available upon request)
Personal Reflections on My Belief about Homosexuality
Willis (Bill) Breckbill
I love the Mennonite Church. For the past forty-six years I have served as pastor, conference minister and on numerous boards and committees. I want the Mennonite church to be faithful to its call to love people as God loves them.
My deep concern is that the Mennonite Church is failing to express God's love
My deep concern is that the Mennonite Church is failing to express God's love to a minority group of people-people who discover that, through no choice of their own, they have a homosexual orientation. Many of them have been baptized into the Mennonite Church, many have attended our high schools and colleges, yet they are often marginalized. Some are asked by pastors or elders to leave their home congregation. Some parents who wish to support their son or daughter are restricted in what they are permitted to do in the church.
Let me make my position clear. Some persons who connect with a "gay life-style" (see glossary) do engage in destructive behaviors. Some heterosexual people also engage in destructive behaviors. I do not approve of such destructive behaviors. I refer to believing persons who are committed to following Jesus in discipleship and who want to be a part of the church. Many of them live among us, a number of whom I know personally.
It is my firm belief that these persons need to be included in the church. They have much to offer and the church is the poorer for excluding them. For the church system to make them second class persons is a breach of justice. What follows is a brief reflection on my life of faith and how I came to this understanding.
During my ministry I have seen the Mennonite church wrestle with a number of issues. One issue was clothing. Clothes were a defining factor for separation from the world. Men wore dark, plain suits and women wore cape dresses, the prayer veiling and were not permitted to cut their hair. Those who did not abide by the rules were disciplined by being refused communion. Many families left the Mennonite Church because of its stringent rules. Another issue was our relation to Afro-Americans. During the 1960s, while serving as pastor of the First Mennonite Church, Canton, Ohio, I was confronted with my own prejudices toward the "blacks," as they were identified then. The community in which the church building was located was about fifty percent African-American. My stereotypes of blacks, and my phobias concerning them, needed to be challenged and changed. The Mennonite Church also faced the issue of divorce and remarriage. Many meetings and study groups worked at understanding God's grace in this issue that was very threatening to the unity of the church. Now little is said about this issue and people who are divorced and remarried serve in leadership roles. As a denomination we also struggled with each other regarding the inclusion of women in leadership roles. There is still residue from this conflict, which in some areas remains unresolved.
Our current struggle regarding the inclusion of gays and lesbians in the Mennonite church has dynamics similar to these previous struggles, and behaviors in relation to the issue have been similar. I remember persons who had a strong Christian witness but who, due to other convictions about clothes, were excluded from leadership roles. They often left the church. I remember a ministerial colleague, pastor of an urban church where Afro-American Christians freely participated, who felt marginalized by the church. I remember women who demonstrated outstanding gifts for ministry who had to be quiet if they wanted to remain in the church. Now we are facing the issue of whether or not to include those who confess Christ but are gay or lesbian. Currently, in most places, those who confess Christ and who experience same-sex attraction and wish to live honestly with that orientation are judged, maligned and marginalized. Many leave. Not only are gays and lesbians ostracized; those who take a position of support for them also risk loss of rapport and of not having their gifts used in the church.
When I look at the life of Jesus and how he included those on the margins and those who were outcasts in society and the religious community, I am convinced that he would invite lesbians and gay men of our society to join him. I know of no passage where Jesus refused to show his love and grace. His greatest words of judgment were toward religious leaders who by their religious rules kept people out. The Bible, for me, is a story of God's forming a people to demonstrate the character of God. Many texts in both the Old and New Testament make clear that the Good News of God's love is for all people. I do not know how to show God's love to people and at the same time refuse to associate with them. I need to invite, include, and interact so that I can understand them and in some way share God's love with them. I am the first to acknowledge that I fall short of this ideal. It is my conviction that God's grace is "unrationed," as our recently departed brother, Atlee Beechy, declared in his "Confession of a Peacemaker."
Today the church faces the question of including gays and lesbians. Certain texts are cited, in my mind often misused, to reinforce a stereotype that excludes gays and lesbians. We establish guidelines to protect ourselves from sexual minorities as if they were dangerous; we fear that they will pollute us. So, to save us from our fears, we find ways to keep them at a distance. Homophobia is rampant even though often denied. Someone has said, "We develop laws and guidelines to protect us from the hard work of love." In my mind the problem is not that there are gays and lesbians. They are not the problem. The problem is the church's refusal to extend grace and open arms to receive them. Remember the scripture, "Perfect love casts out fear."

When we look at our human family we readily observe great variety and diversity. We are tall and short, dark and light. We have blue eyes and brown eyes, blonde hair and black. We are left handed and right handed. Some people have artistic minds, some mechanical, some mathematical, some poetic. Some view things from a practical point of view while others are more theoretical. Today we talk about academic intelligence and emotional intelligence. No matter what areas of our life we examine we observe diversity. Why would we expect the area of sexuality to be either purely male or female? From general observations we notice that characteristics often attributed to men are seen in women and vice versa. This does not make these folks good or bad, only different from each other. The same-sex attraction of gays and lesbians is easy to understand amidst this diversity. Neither are these folks good or bad or emotionally sick because of their sexual orientation. They reflect part of the diversity of the human family.
I believe that gays and lesbians have an orientation that is different from heterosexuals. They do not choose to be homosexual. Something innate in their being causes them to be attracted sexually to the same gender. Many studies have been done on this subject, and the movement, as I read the material, is toward recognition of this reality. This causes me to ask, "How can we express God's grace to those with a homosexual orientation?" Some people think that they should be "cured" of their "perversion." Some believe that God can change persons from being homosexual to being heterosexual, but the scene is not convincing. There are many, many stories of persons who declared themselves changed but later recognized that nothing had changed. These persons often come to a place of peace when they accept themselves as being gay or lesbian and experience God's accepting grace.
There is a tendency to perceive all gays and lesbians as perverted and sinful. My experience is otherwise. Some of the most compassionate people I know are gay or lesbian. This is not only my observation, but also that of others. A woman whose husband died in a tragic accident experienced more care from a gay nephew than from other members in the family system. A woman minister friend experienced a gay man standing by her in the difficult times of losing her brother and later her father. Are these the kind of people we want to keep out of the church?
For human beings, intimate relationships are nurturing and fulfilling. Some people are not privileged to experience this and that makes me sad. I wish for all people a relationship that is mutually supportive, encouraging and life-giving. Not all heterosexual people enjoy this ideal, but they are not denied the privilege of trying to achieve it. I see no reason for me to determine that same-sex partnerships should be denied gays and lesbians. I observe these partnerships to be mutually supportive, encouraging and life-giving. If this is their experience, I have no need to call it bad or evil.
Where do we go from here in our Mennonite Church? Considering my view, I have the following suggestions:
1. We need to find ways to talk with each other. The issue of receiving gays and lesbians, either practicing or celibate, into church is the problem. The problem is not gay and lesbian people. The problem is not that we disagree but that we attack one another. Unfortunately the report and recommendations of a Listening Committee duly appointed by both the General Conference and the Mennonite Church in 1990 was not given proper attention and implementation. (See Booklet #2) The committee's findings and recommendations were given to the leadership of both denominations in 1993, but they decided not to release it to the church or to implement the recommendations. So we remain in a deadlock. The Purdue and Saskatoon Statements recommend that we dialogue about the issue. We have not had real dialogue. The process seems to be to avoid or defer. When will we have a structure for talking freely without fear of recrimination? Surely this should happen in a believers church where we maintain that God's will is found by giving and receiving counsel, and studying the Word, all under the guidance of the Spirit.
2. We need to extend God's grace of acceptance to all who believe. As Christians we continue to fail on many fronts. The lists in the Bible of behaviors that displease God include greed, gossip, lust, adultery, strife, jealousy, envy, drunkenness and others. None of us is free from all of these behaviors. But when I look at my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, I also see love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These, Paul says, are fruit of the Spirit. Jesus said, in the Sermon on the Mount, that by the fruit you will know the good and bad tree. I want to accept those who come to God by faith and show evidence of good fruit.
3. We need to remove the category of "disciplined congregation" and enjoy the participation of each other in the search for wholeness. Most of the congregations that are currently under discipline are congregations that have studied this issue using the resources available to them. They studied the Word, were open to counsel, and felt led to receive gays and lesbians into their fellowship. It seems strange to me that members of congregations that have spent little or no time studying the issue want conferences to discipline those who have. We should be willing to bless each other even though we find ourselves with different understandings on this issue, for none of us has come to fullness of truth on the topic.
4. We need to credential those who honestly seek to be faithful to the call of God on their lives, even though there is a difference in understanding and conviction. If discerning God's will in the life of the church is an ongoing process, we need all the light that we can get. We included many people in the process of welcoming women into church leadership. We spent much time together processing whether divorced and remarried persons could retain membership in the church. I fail to understand why in our present situation some refuse to offer support to receive gays and lesbians into the church, to extend to them the privilege of serving. Is this an attempt to keep the church pure? Is it a matter of control? Is it homophobia? What is the motivational element behind exclusion?
5. We should train persons to understand the gay/lesbian orientation so that with grace and care they can counsel young people who may have questions about their sexuality. To help youth sort out orientation for themselves before they come to the place where they think marriage will "fix" things, only to discover it does not, would be an exercise of Christian grace and nurture. Many people get hurt when such help is not provided. Possibly some who think that they might be gay or lesbian are not. They need safe places to go, where they can talk freely about their sexual attractions without fear of judgment or recrimination. Counsel could be given regarding how to relate to parents, family and church. Counsel could be given regarding same-sex partnership.
In conclusion, the church should be a place of grace and acceptance. I do not see the inclusion of gays and lesbians as being "easy on sin" but rather as a way to express God's grace and acceptance. As I share my views here, I know there are many who take a different view. I am ready to be in conversation with those who differ with me.
Community happens when we are open with one another and to God's Spirit.

Let us now praise Paul Krugman

He is doing more with his piece of punditry "real estate" than anyone in America right now:

So we've created a vast and hugely expensive insurance bureaucracy that accomplishes nothing. The resources spent by private insurers don't reduce overall costs; they simply shift those costs to other people and institutions. It's perverse but true that this system, which insures only 85 percent of the population, costs much more than we would pay for a system that covered everyone.

And the costs go beyond wasted money.

First, in the U.S. system, medical costs act as a tax on employment. For example, General Motors is losing money on every car it makes because of the burden of health care costs. As a result, it may be forced to lay off thousands of workers, or may even go out of business. Yet the insurance premiums saved by firing workers are no saving at all to society as a whole: somebody still ends up paying the bills.

Second, Americans without insurance eventually receive medical care - but the operative word is "eventually." According to Kaiser Family Foundation data, the uninsured are about three times as likely as the insured to postpone seeking care, fail to get needed care, leave prescriptions unfilled or skip recommended treatment. And many end up disabled - or die - because of these delays.

Think about how crazy all of this is. At a rough guess, between two million and three million Americans are employed by insurers and health care providers not to deliver health care, but to pass the buck for that care to someone else. And the result of all their exertions is to make the nation poorer and sicker.

Why do we put up with such an expensive, counterproductive health care system? Vested interests play an important role. But we also suffer from ideological blinders: decades of indoctrination in the virtues of market competition and the evils of big government have left many Americans unable to comprehend the idea that sometimes competition is the problem, not the solution.
When the only thing people really understand is money, when the only value in society is cost, when the only balance on the scales is cash, it takes an economist to put the argument in terms society will actually understand.

We are no more a "Christian" nation than we are a "compassionate" one. Randy Newman was right: it's money that matters in the USA. If we won't change our hearts, maybe we'll at least follow our pocketbooks.

But there are walls that keep us all divided;
We fence each other in with hate and war.
Fear is the bricks and mortar of our prison,
Our pride of self, the prison coat we wear.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Hymn blogging

Your love, O God, is broad like beach and meadow,
Wide as the wind, and our eternal home.
You leave us free to seek you or reject you,
And give us room to answer “yes” or “no.”

We long for freedom where our truest being
Is given hope and courage to unfold.
We seek in freedom space and scope for dreaming,
And look for ground, where trees and plants can grow

But there are walls that keep us all divided;
We fence each other in with hate and war.
Fear is the bricks and mortar of our prison,
Our pride of self, the prison coat we wear.

O judge us, Lord, and in your judgment free us,
And set our feet in freedom’s open space;
Take us as far as your compassion wanders
Among the children of the human race.

Anders Fronstenson 1968 (trans. Fred Kaan 1972)

The United Methodist Hymnal helpfully divides its hymns into sections by theme. This little number, “Your Love, O God,” is to be found in the section “God’s Nature.” My first impression was that, aside from the first verse, the subject is our nature, not God’s.

Since I was musing on RMJ’s post concerning doing and being during choir, rather than paying attention to the dynamics and key signature as I should have been (mea culpa), this hymn for Sunday grabbed my attention and never let go.

What if is about being? RMJ asks. In this summer of love hymn, we seek freedom to find our truest being. God, being the vague, hands off wideness that God is, supports this by freeing us to find our way, always in God’s love. But we must live and “be” with each other, and, as the third stanza reiterates, that’s not easy because our nature is to fear.

Is our “truest being” to fear? I doubt it. My inclination is to say that fear is representative of our natures, not our being. But what distinguishes our “being” from our “nature.” Or is there even a distinction? I have to ask what is “being” and does it just exist, or does it manifest? And if it manifests, can we know it as our “being,” and how do we know?

RMJ is right, ontology and epistemology overlap like ferrets napping on the sofa. Where does one begin and the other end? I ask the same question about theology and praxis. Ideally, they shouldn’t be seen as discrete units.

For example, this is a hymn about the human condition and the role God plays in letting us experience it and lifting us out of it. From our experience of God, we come to some conclusions about the nature of God, albeit some rather vague ones. It takes a stab at theology. Good enough.

But in a worship service, this hymn plays a role. Specifically, it acts, in this case, as an opening hymn- to set the mood and theme. If planned with intentionality, and good pastors plan every aspect of a worship service with intentionality, it links in some way with the scripture and the sermon, as well as with any other liturgy that might be occurring, such as communion or a baptism. An opening hymn provides a background from which to experience a service. It sets a context, not in a restrictive way, but in a thematic way. Sometimes it connects a great deal with the main message of a service, sometimes only in a general way. The point, however, isn’t to set up a framework on which to hang every aspect of worship (although some pastors do this), but to provide a multitude of means by which the individual members of the congregation can experience the “Good News.”

Worship is undoubtedly praxis. Liturgy comes from the Greek composite word, leitourgia (laos-people, ergo-to do, to work) originally meaning a public duty undertaken by a citizen. In the Jewish religious context it came to refer to temple ritual publicly performed by a priest. In the later Christian tradition, it came to mean an act of public worship which in which a group participated. In other words, Compline was liturgy, the Rosary was not.

Yet, in the acting of the people in worship, there is always the presumption that the people are being acted upon as well. The method in the worship planning madness is to attempt to provide an outlet in which a person’s being is touched by the presence of God. Perhaps that means conveying a new understanding or comprehension of God in an epistemological sense. Maybe it brings you to a place where your "being" is redefined by God's presence in an ontological way. If that is accomplished through traditional ritual, so be it. If that occurs in the course of a brilliant sermon delivered by yours truly, well good on you. If a hymn or prayer brings you to a new place of wonder and joy, excellent. You have worked and been worked on. Theology in praxis, theology through praxis, theology as the foundation of praxis. There doesn't need to be an either/or.

I'm sure there is much more to be said about this.

Christian Ethics 101

From FeralLiberal at First Draft comes an excellent suggestion. Now if we just had the funds of George Soros to back it up:

"I am sick and tired of (them saying) they somehow have a better understanding of Christianity, of the Judeo-Christian ethic, of values."--John Kerry

I'd like to see a series of billboards across the country with a large picture of the hooded prisoner from Abu-Graib and a caption below it that states:

'Whatever you have done to the least of these my bretheren, you have done it to me.'
Imagine how many "Christians" would be outraged at the suggestion that Muslims and Iraqis be treated as children of God.

It would be worth the outrage it would generate.


Western thought is divided, indeed almost chopped into tiny pieces, by dualisms.
The knowledge of good and evil seems to be the aim of all ethical reflection. The first task of Christian ethics is to invalidate this knowledge. In launching this attack on the underlying assumptions of all other ethics, Christian ethics stands so completely alone that it becomes questionable whether there is any purpose in speaking of Christian ethics at all. But if one does so notwithstanding, that can only mean that Christian ethics claims to discuss the origin of the whole problem of ethics, and thus professes to be a critique of all ethics simply as ethics.

Already in the possibility of the knowledge of good and evil Christian ethics discerns a falling away from the origin. Man at his origin knows only one thing: God. It is only in the unity. of his knowledge of God that he knows of other men, of things, and of himself. He knows all things only in God, and God in all things. The knowledge of good and evil shows that he is no longer at one with this origin. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, tr. Eberhard Bethge (New York: Macmillan 1965), p. 17.
The Platonic assumptions behind this analysis are obvious: our very origin begins in duality, in being split off from our origins, and needing to find our way back to them. This is the center of the Christian doctrine of salvation: that what was right is now wrong, that what was once possessed in joy is now lost in sorrow, and that the only way to recovery is by overcoming despair through reconciliation. On the concept of such dualism, in Western Christian traditions, hang all the law and the prophets and the problems and the hope of humankind. From the beginning, our souls move away from God, and seek constantly only to return to God. Asserted Augustine, perhaps the greatest of the Christian Platonists: "Our hearts are restless 'til they rest in thee." But you will find absolutely no support for this dualism, or this restlessness of heart, in Scriptures.

It's a question of "biblical theology," of returning to origins (with still the assumption that "origins" are pure and only in journeying in a circle to we know the place we started from), and ironically, a discipline that arises in part from the insistence on sola scriptura of Christian fundamentalists. If we are indeed to follow sola scriptura, then we must be scrupulously honest about what scripture says. And Scripture never identifies a soul that is restless until it rests in God. Indeed, scripture never identifies an individual qua individual at all.*

What scripture identifies is people, living wholly and completely as people. Abraham hears the voice of God and obeys without questioning, which is awesome and, in the old sense of the word, awful; but still Abraham worries as he travels from kingdom to kingdom, and passes off Sarah as his sister, not his wife, on three occasions. And Jacob cheats his brother Esau of the elder's birthright, but gives Israel both its blessing and its name. Or Paul, whose conversion on the road to Damascus is not prompted by the "restlessness" of his heart; if anything, Paul's encounter with the living God makes him restless for the rest of his days. It is indeed a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

So if we examine it honestly, scripture has very little indeed to say about "soul," or about dualities, or about restlessness. None of the gospels, even the profoundly Hellenistic Gospel according to John, present anything like a thesis that humanity has been separated from God and Jesus the Christ is the only hope of reconciliation. Indeed, according to the Hebrew prophets, the Messiah was supposed to make Israel itself a light to the nations (nation to nation, not individual to world; Christianity never presumed a world stage that would be the apotheosis of any one person) and show the nations to the true "way of life." If that way was exclusionary, it was only the exclusion of radical monotheism, and the exclusion of "false gods" from the life of the children of Abraham, the people of the covenant with God, the covenant renewed in Egypt when the Israelites followed Moses into the wilderness.

Dualism, in fact, doesn't enter into the discussion of a radical monotheism. "If we accept good from God, shall we not accept evil?", asks Job, in one of the toughest questions posed in scripture. But the question Job's wife has asked is equally harsh to modern ears. She, too, understands that there is only one source of all things, and those things include life: "Why do you still hold fast to your integrity?" she asks. "Curse God and die!" One, of course, would lead to the other. God is the source of life; to deny God, is to deny life. To profess any other god but God, is to deny life. There is no dualism, no double source, no essential cleavage to which we must ultimately return. To be cut off from God, is to die. It's as fundamental and absolute as turning off a light switch: no power, no life. And the source of life is singular, not dual, and needs no duality and reconciliation to complete it.

Truth, of course, is a victim of dualism. But in our Hellenistic thinking there must be two sides to every question, even if there can be only one truth. Which renders truth a victim of dualism. Even as truth is only known in the struggles between opposing forces; even as Aquinas recognizes that we cannot know what God is, only what God is not (a negative theology that tries to avoid Hellenistic divisions into more fundamental fundamentals), we are caught trying still to hold onto a unitary truth. And even Plato understood that truth must be singular, must stand apart, pure and unchanging, if it is to be truth at all. As Pope Benedict XVI has said, all that is outside truth, is error, whose modern name is "relativism."
On Monday morning, the cardinals attended the traditional Mass for the election of a pope at St. Peter's, where Ratzinger gave a stinging homily against the West's creeping "dictatorship of relativism." Those who hold firmly to belief in God and moral absolutes, he said, are accused of fundamentalism, while the only socially acceptable attitude seems to be that everything is relative and nothing is clearly right or wrong.

In effect, it laid out the philosophy behind Ratzinger's two decades of work as head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
So the options come back to merely an either/or: one is on the side of truth, or one is a relativist. The irony that this division itself requires an either/or, even as it condemns the false "either/or" in favor of the unity of "truth," should not be overlooked. The irony is that it is the introduction of the either/or that caused the problem in the first place: either stay with God, or be separated from God, is the interpretation of Genesis 2 behind Bonhoeffer's opening ethical analysis. And so only another either/or, the either/or of salvation presumptively stated in John 3:16, can affect the repair. But was the cleavage ever there to begin with?

The first Creation story of Genesis says that all creation is good and blessed by God, and from that story stems the fundamental law to honor the sabbath and keep it holy. The second creation story explains why humankind can imagine paradise, but not live in it. But neither is either an historical event or even a foundational tale. They are instructive; but they are not binding. They are, indeed, not a necessity at all. They are a confession: a confession of humankind's relationship to the Creator. A relationship that is not divided by the story of Genesis 2, but merely explained.

Which means Paul is not offering healing when he says nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ; he is explaining. He is explaining how close to God all humankind is and can know itself to be, and if there is a dualism, it is that the world will not accept that proximity, that the world will not seek its comfort and rest in that powerless challenge to its power. But power is ultimately powerlessness, and powerlessness ultimately the victor over power, not by exertion but by endurance, not by persistance but by permanence. There is no essential division in the world, no fundamental dualism, a fissure, a split, a chasm between God and creation. That fissure alone is the illusion, fostered by the world, which thinks it finds security in power.

Is it any accident that as this is written, the radio is reporting in detail on the life, and untimely death, of Marla Ruzicka? Or is it true that there are no accidents?

*Which is admittedly another matter altogether. The most personal of the scriptures are the Psalms, but these can be read as personal devotions just as readily as they are read as the voice of the nation of Israel. One interpretation cannot privilege another without a solid foundation, and that foundation is built almost entirely on conjectural sand.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

To be is to do? Or to do is to be?

You can assess any position in philosophy by the relationship it proposes between being and knowing. Some traditions, like the Greek one of Plato and Aristotle, place ontology in the center, while others, like the modern period inaugurated by Descartes, put the emphasis on epistemology. Clearly, however, a complete philosophy will have to do justice to both. Unfortunately, there is a deep and irreducible tension between the two perspectives that makes a reconciliation difficult to achieve. The ontological perspective, "the view from nowhere" (to exploit Thomas Nagel's evocative phrase) seems to leave no room for "the world as I found it" (to borrow an expression from Wittgenstein). If we note further that the world as we experience it, "our world," is essentially temporal, whereas the logical and empirical conditions for experience as such are more spatial, in the most general sense, than temporal, we begin to take a true measure of the problem Godel set for himself. (Palle Yourgrau, A World Without Time. I'm away from my home computer; the page no. will show up this afternoon).

This is the dividing line now between "Continental" philosophers and "analytical" ones. By nationality, the former is primarily French, the latter primarily Anglo-American, which is as convenient a place to draw the line as any other, actually, and in some ways more illuminating. Napoleon is supposed to have dismissed the British as "a nation of shopkeepers," and in some ways he was certainly right, and that is certainly the heritage carried to fullest flower in American culture where the only way to determine the value of anything is by what it will fetch in the marketplace. But that, too, reduces to an issue of ontology, or epistemology; if you care to look at it that way.

Epistemology concerns the questions of what we can know, while ontology concerns the questions of what we are. Obviously the two overlap each other, and it is impossible to consider one apart from the other; the question, as usual, is one of emphasis. But it is also a question of practice, praxis as the seminaries teach us to call it. And that, to me, is the most interesting issue. With the elevation of a new Pope, questions of religious comity and ecumenism are suddenly in the air; hopes and questions about reconciliation abound. But, as Yourgrau says, "there is a deep and irreducible tension between the two perspectives that makes a reconciliation difficult to achieve." That tension is over the issue of belief: is religion a matter of faith? or is it a matter of practice? What we know? Or what we are?

The Western emphasis, going back to Hellenestic Greece, has been on epistemology. What we know, determines who we are. This is the stance of Socrates in the Phaedo, where he elucidates the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, and of reincarnation, and of learning enough to achieve the "good" (the parable of the cave, usually considered the "heart" of Plato's epistemology, seems to me to be a refinement of thought from the Phaedo, although scholarship may prove my conjecture completely wrong). It is our knowledge that perfects us, that makes us more wholly who we are meant to be. "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free," says Jesus in John's gospel, the most Hellenistic of the four canonicals. By our age, via Romanticism, this becomes the doctrince of "self-actualization," one paved in part by that most Romantic of religious thinkers and theologians, Søren Kierkegaard. As Romanticism taught us, itself reaching back across the centuries to, like the Enlightenment, to the Greeks, our solitary goal is to become most wholly who we are. The twist Romanticism supplied, in the face of the dehumanizing of humanity because of the rise of the machines, was to separate the individual even from society, to set the Byronic figure even against the gods themselves. The Industrial Revolution shattered the Great Chain of Being, and the Romantics kicked it away defiantly. Kierkegaard, and Bonhoeffer after him, and countless Protestant theologians in between, despised the trappings of Christendom that required no personal commitment on the part of the individual. Christendom that flowered into a world religion because of the conversion of Constantine was now to be seen as the domain only of those faithful enough to struggle with the paradox and the pain of seeing themselves in the hands of the living God. "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die," Bonhoeffer famously stated (and later reconsidered). Kierkegaard, who had written his aesthetic and religious works and planned to retire to a rural Danish Lutheran church (he was a Lutheran seminary student), instead wrote his brutal assault on Bishop Mynster following the latter's death, and upon the state church itself, in his Attack upon 'Christendom.' "What comes out of a person" became the most important thing; but what good could possibly come out of a person with no faith? Faith without works is dead, but works without faith is surely without justification, too.

Which was not, and has not been, the only understanding of Christianity in the world. It has been, rather, the primary Western understanding. The tension has actually been between practice (though not necessarily praxis), and belief. The "liturgical" Western churches, following more or less on the lines of the Roman Catholic church, have always felt a tension between theology (matters of belief) and liturgy (matters of prayer and practice). Even now, a question already arising from the nascent papacy of Benedict XVI is: will he reinstate the Latin mass? A question of practice, informed by questions of theology. But does the practice inform the theology; or the theology, the practice?

Protestant churches feel the same tension, but prefer to emphasize practice arising from belief. The true believer expresses their belief in the practice of worship, preferably by the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions, although in vigor, not tranquility. The emphasis is on the practice, which in turn informs the theology.

But the Eastern churches have followed a different course. The Eastern worship, to begin with (and to speak most generally) centers not on the experience of the individual, but on the atmosphere appropriate to the one being worshipped. Western liturgy tries to recreate, anew and again, the vision of the throne room from First Isaiah. Eastern worship assumes the throne room, and proceeds to honor the presence of the cosmic King. Emphasis is not on personal experience so much as presence. What is in the heart, as God tells Jeremiah, is a mystery even to God. But the person who can practice the prayers and discipline of the religious life is never very far from the true presence.

You may ask: but what if the practice is hollow? But that is a very Western question. Even Tariq Ali, a self-described atheist, says that growing up in Pakistan he was a Muslim simply because everyone was a Muslim. This offends our Western sensibilities, because we consider religion a "private" matter but one the individual must accept or reject. In Eastern cultures, however, the question of acceptance, and its obverse coin face, rejection, simply never occur, says Ali. He was an atheist; and he was a Muslim; and he sees no contradiction in those positions.

Which brings us back to Yourgrau: is it a question of being, or a question of knowing? Most criticism of religion in the Western world focusses on the question of knowing. If we don't know God exists, or don't know exactly what God wants, or don't know for sure which rules of God apply, or how to interpret them, how then do we claim as Christians to know anything at all? Likewise, if we do know these things, how do we restrain from imposing them on everyone else, from defining our truth as the truth absolute and even if we are tolerant of other truths, of not measuring them against ours and finding them, inevitably and if we are honest, wanting?

But what if it is a question of being, instead?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005


This one is for NYMary:

Then the door of the box opened and in came Mozart....He sat there and began busying himself with an apparatus and some instruments that stood beside him. He took it very seriously, tightening this and screwing that, and I looked with wonder at his adroit and nimble fingers and wished that I might see them playing a piano for once. I watched him thoughtfully, or in a reverie rather, lost in admiration of his beautiful and skillful hands, warmed too, by the sense of his presence and a little apprehensive as well. Of what he was actually doing and of what it was that he screwed and manipulated, I took no heed whatever.

I soon found, however, that he had fixed up a radio and put it in going order, and now he inserted the loudspeaker and said: "Munich is on the air. Concerto Grosso in F Major by Handel."

And in fact, to my indescribable astonishment and horror, the devilish tin trumpet spat out, without more ado, a mixture of bronchial slime and chewed rubber; that noise that owners of gramophones and radios have agreed to call music. And behind the slime and the croaking there was, sure enough, like an old master beneath a layer of dirt, the noble outline of that divine music. I could distinguish the majestic structure and the deep wide breath and the full broad bowing of the strings.
"My God," I cried in horror, "what are you doing, Mozart? Do you really mean to inflict this mess on me and yourself, this triumph of our day" the last victorious weapon in the war of extermination against art? Must this be, Mozart?"
How the weird man laughed! And what a cold and eerie laugh! It was noiseless and yet everything was shattered by it. He marked my torment with deep satisfaction while he bent over the cursed screws and attended to the tin trumpet. Laughing still, he let the distorted, the murdered and murderous music ooze out and on; and laughing still, he replied:

"Please, no pathos, my friend! Anyway, did you observe the ritardando? An inspiration, eh? Yes, and now you tolerant man, let the sense of this ritardando touch you. Do you hear the basses? They stride like gods. And let this inspiration of old Handel penetrate your restless heart and give it peace. Just listen, you poor creature, listen without either pathos or mockery, while far away behind the veil of this hopelessly idiotic and ridiculous apparatus the form of this divine music passes by. Pay attention and you will learn something. Observe how this crazy funnel apparently does the most stupid, the most useless and the most damnable thing in the world. It takes hold of some music played where you please, without distinction, stupid and coarse, lamentably distorted, to boot, and chucks it into space to land where it has no business to be; and yet after all this it cannot destroy the original spirit of the music; it can only demonstrate its own senseless mechanism, its inane meddling and marring. Listen, then, you poor thing. Listen well. You have need of it. And now you hear not only a Handel who, disfigured by radio, is, all the same, in this most ghastly of disguises still divine; you hear as well and you observe, most worthy sir, a most admirable symbol of all life. When you listen to radio you are a witness of the everlasting war between idea and appearance, between time and eternity, between the human and the divine. Exactly, my dear sir, as the radio for ten minutes together projects the most lovely music without regard into the most impossible places, into respectable drawing rooms and attics and into the midst of chattering, guzzling, yawning and sleeping listeners, and exactly as it strips this music of its sensuous beauty, spoils and scratches and slimes it and yet cannot altogether destroy its spirit, just so does life, the so-called reality, deal with the sublime picture-play of the world and make a hurley-burley of it. It makes its unappetizing tone-slime of the most magic orchestral music. Everywhere it obtrudes its mechanism, its activity, its dreary exigencies and vanity between the ideal and the real, between orchestra and ear. All life is so, my child, and we must let it be so: and, if we are not asses, laugh at it. It little becomes people like you to be critics of radio or of life either. Better learn to listen first! Learn what is to be taken seriously and laugh at the rest."
--Herman Hesse, Steppenwolf, tr. Basil Creighton (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1963, pp. 240-243).

And now I'm going to go find my old Deutsche Grammophon phonograph of Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra. For some reason, I feel the need to hear it.

Pope Benedict XVI

A few rash thoughts on the elevation of Cardinal Ratzinger to the Papacy.

What I know of Ratzinger, I know from the last few days. But it certainly appears that his elevation is a signal that the reaction to massive social change that began in the 1960's in America and Europe, has crested. I just heard Tariq Ali and Laura Flanders on the local (Houston) Pacifica station, where they were being interviewed. They agreed on the principal of: "The worse the better," meaning, as I took it, the more harshly Ratzinger tries to centralize control, the more likely he is to fail, and that attempt at "returning to normal" will finally be boiled in its own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through its heart.

I speak metaphorically, of course.

I was actually thinking of this while writing the post below, but I was distracted by other thoughts. Looking strictly from the outside, and understanding somewhat the desire to consolidate whatever power your position of responsibility assigns you, with whatever power you can accrue, the urge to consolidate power is powerful. However, where there is a center of power, there are always margins, and nowhere more than in an international institution like the Roman Catholic church. The irony, of course, is that the modern age which has made skepticism and apostasy so widespread and acceptable, has also fostered the illusion that, through communication one can exert control. The Roman church originally placed substantial control in the Bishops, the episcopacy of the church, who had to make decisions "on the ground" with little or no opportunity to communicate with the Papacy, except on the most fundamental and boundary setting issues. As communication has grown, so has grown the perception that if it can be heard, it can be directed; and if it can be directed, it can be enforced. But what can be directed and enforced, is not necessarily what should be.

The other problem is that we have world cultures now, not one culture. This has always been true, of course, but the single culture of Europe has lost almost all control over "indigenous" cultures. This, too, is a consequence of communications technology as much as it is changed perceptions about cultures and "superiority." And yet we all see more clearly that the culture we grew up with, does not necessarily provide the answers for another culture a world away. Consider Karol Wojtyla, raised under the authoritarian regime of Poland, trying as Pope to understand the liberation theology of the Jesuits in Central America. Centralized authority appeals to the Pope culturally, spiritually, and ecclesiastically. But the authority from Rome has no concept of the situation in Latin America. Liberation theology, ironically, is probably the best response to the "health and wealth gospel" of America, which easily travels south, and easily insinuates itself with its promises that God not only cares about you, but cares about how many material goods you can amass. Ironically, for reasons unclear to me from so far away, the spiritual Pope misses the spiritual power of liberation theology, and moreover wholly misses the material appeal of the "health and wealth gospel." We get too soon old, and too late smart.

And still the further away from the margins the center of power is, the less able it is to hear the cries of God's people. But perhaps that is simply the Protestant in me. [N.B. left rev.'s comment pointed out my egregious error in this sentence, i.e., it made no sense; and now it has been corrected. Gratias.]

What will Pope Benedict XVI do? It is difficult to imagine he will change anything done under John Paul II. It is not difficult to imagine he will extend John Paul's most restrictive, most reactionary policies. Which, again, is an institutional problem. Except institutional problems create spiritual, and even political, problems.

As John Fowles said: "Whole sight; or all the rest is desolation." We can only pray for the new Pope, and for ourselves, and for each other: that our sight may be whole, and so God's will be done.

So, it's not just us....

Start with news of the world and the ekklesia:
To understand the crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in Europe, visit the Seminary of St. Sulpice in Issy-Les-Moulineaux outside Paris.

The vast 100-year-old structure, built on the ruins of a 17th-century chateau, contains vaulted ceilings, stained-glass windows and hundreds of rooms. Pope John Paul II visited here in 1980 on a trip in which he chastised the French for abandoning the church.

But the seminary's corridors are dark, the individual living quarters largely empty. Only 52 seminarians are studying this year, a decrease of 50 percent from a decade ago. Many of them come from as far away as Vietnam and Rwanda.
When I entered Eden Seminary, in St. Louis, before classes started the new students held a weekend retreat at Kenrick Seminary. Well, it had been a seminary, for Catholic priests. Despite the fact that St. Louis, as the RC priest who taught us Pastoral Care said with a smile, had "more Catholics than you can shake a stick at," the Seminary had long ago converted to a retreat center.

The building was built to house about 200 men, and house them comfortably. The cells were small, but the hallways were huge, long and wide. It's no exaggeration to say I could have driven my MG Midget down those halls, and turned it around at either end to go back. There were classrooms, a chapel, kitchen and dining room; it was completely self-contained, under one roof. In fact, there were two groups using it that weekend, and we never ran into each other. It was, of course, almost completely empty.

If the requirements for the priesthood were as high for many Protestant denominations, those churches would have the same problems described in this article (many do, anyway). Most Protestant seminarians now are married, probably retired, or on a second career. Eden Seminary was built originally to house single men. It was still adjusting to families with children from near-college age to nearly new-born when I was there. And some of the professors were still used to dealing with young college graduates, not people changing career in mid-life. But that's another story, and only fits in here as an example of the changes society is forcing on the churches worldwide.

Perhaps it is because the world is finally more attractive than the church, that this question of competition arises. Ekklesia meant those called out of the world, gathered together out of the marketplace, literally. Maybe the marketplace is just a more comfortable place to stay than it was before. In earlier ages the world offered little in the way of advancement or even placement, and the church took in many who were simply willing to do the work. The notion of "calling" didn't gel until Martin Luther was forced to form his own church rather than allowed to reform the only church he knew. Where once the church filled a cultural niche, either as a secure employer or as a source of some social status, it has fallen now not only in the wake of the ebb of the post war boom, but more deeply, in the backwash of the Enlightenment.

That, at least, is the usual diagnosis. A.N. Wilson's God's Funeral popularized that idea a few years ago, and it's become the reigning explanation for the decline of the church in Europe. But things are seldom as simple as that. I was struck by this passage in the New York Times article:
Only 21 percent of Europeans say that religion is "very important" to them, according to the often-cited European Values Study, conducted in 1999 and 2000 and published two years ago. A similar survey in the United States by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life put the number at nearly 60 percent.

The trend away from regular participation has been so noticeable that it has even been given a name: European apostasy.

"European Catholics are not against the Catholic Church," said Ulrich Ruh, editor of the Catholic monthly Herder-Korrespondenz, based in Freiburg, Germany. "They go to church at least once or twice a year and bring their children to be baptized and confirmed. Rather, they have made their own personal arrangements with the church and do not want to be disturbed. They do not want to be evangelized. That is why the pope failed to make the church more attractive."

Part of the problem is the church's emphasis on punishment and sin rather than on inclusion and community.
The first two paragraphs sound like the Europe I "know" from anecdotal evidence and work like Wilson's. That's the Europe of the intelligentsia, the Europe that has turned away from notions like "faith." But the second two paragraphs indicate that is not the whole picture, any more than Pat Robertson or Robert Schuller, or even Jesse Jackson, speak for all American Christians.

And perhaps there is a philosophical bias here, as well. Wilson is British, schooled at one level or another in the Anglo-American philosophies of empricism and positivism. The "analytical" school of philosophy is almost exclusively Anglo-American, and distinguished from the "Continental" schools, which are largely variations of phenomenology, and largely thought of as "French:" Derrida, Levinas. Or perhaps still rooted in German Idealism, as with Heidegger. But then I reflect that Derrida, a Jew by birth, was a Professor of Religious Studies and wrote so many works on religion that he was credited with trying to create a "negative atheology," a decidedly Christian pursuit. And how work in philosophy of religion is a thriving enterprise in Europe (at least in philosophical circles), whereas in this country, as Palle Yourgrau points out, one cannot afford to have even the taint of "piety" among the analytical philosophers. Yourgrau tells the story of Charles Parsons, a philosopher and logician at Harvard, who in 1955 was being interviewed for membership into the Society of Fellows. He made the mistake of mentioning that he had read theology and found Pascal interesting, though he was not a Christian. This prompted W.V.O. Quine to murmur "Good grief, Parsons is pious." (Palle Yourgrau, A World Without Time, New York: Basic Books 2005, pp. 155-156) So the two schools are divided on several levels, not the least of which is the suspicion and distrust of religion widely held by the analytical school. Small wonder any work in religion is being done on "the Continent."

So what is "the problem"? Is it as simple as the Enlightenment slowly but surely sweeping away "superstition"? Or is the problem institutional? Is the church, in other words, the problem?
Grant that thy Church may be delivered from traditions which have lost their life, from usage which has lost its spirit, from institutions which no longer give life and power to their generation; that the Church may ever shine as a light in the world and be as a city set on a hill.

In the Hymnal for the Evangelical and Reformed Church, that is part of the prayer for Church Anniversary. It's a good prayer, because it reminds the church that sometimes, the institition is not the answer. And that the answer is never simple, and it comes from the future. Now, of course, as Alfred North Whitehead said, "It is the business of the future to be dangerous." And institutions despise risk; just as most people do. But that's the proclamation of the church, too: that there is no risk anymore, that in Christ all things have been done that need to be done.

Which gets us back to the theological problems. Like, for example, Central America. The "health and wealth" gospel, which is a theology, is taking countries by storm there; and the only valid response to it I know of, the soundest critique possible, is a good offense. That offense would come in the form of liberation theology. It speaks to the same concerns, but in a wholly different way. There are, in other words, theological, as well as spiritual, answers. And I still have no reason to believe people are not fundamentally spiritual; not culturally, but fundamentally. And I have no reason not to offer the closing words of that prayer for Church Anniversary, because they are true, and can be trusted:
O eternal God, who didst send thy Holy Spirit upon the apostles on the day of Pentecost, we pray that as thou didst strengthen their hearts with daring and fortitude, so thou wouldst confinn in us their faithful labors, their high vision, their holy purpose. Grant us so to live, that the generations to come may find their memorial not alone in graven tablets, but may read it in the living record of an active faith, an unswerving loyalty to truth, a self-forgetting service of mankind. Be this the gift of thy grace bestowed upon us; be this the memorial of the just, transmitted to their children's children through the long centuries to come: and thine shall be the kingdom and the power and the glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, world without end.


Monday, April 18, 2005

Veggi Monster?

Is this wrong, or is it just me?
Sigh. As a vegan and an advocate for children's health, I can't help but applaud any movement in the entertainment industry to promote healthy lifestyle choices for children, particularly in light of the epidemic of childhood obesity and rising type 2 diabetes. Still...

My ten year old's take on this was: "If Cookie Monster can't eat all the cookies he wants, what hope is there for the rest of us?"

Cookie and the rest of the gang at Sesame Street were a huge formative part of my childhood. I was born the same year the show debuted, and I rememebr when Kermit was a sock and the cartoon interludes were so freakingly psychedelic my perpetually stoned uncle would sit and watch it with me every afternoon. There is nothing like it on today, and that includes the current iteration. Heck, I about lost it when they decided to make Snuffleupogus visible to the grown-ups. Why has it become more important to take the magic out of childhood instead of celebrating it?

I know this is of little importance in the grand scheme of things. Still, where have all the cookies gone....long time passing...

Breaking News: Pot Calls Kettle Black!

You can't make this stuff up:

In 30 years of culture wars, few conservative Christian standard bearers have traveled further in American politics than Ralph Reed. The former head of the Christian Coalition has been a high-priced communications consultant, a top Bush campaign adviser, chairman of Georgia's Republican Party and now a candidate for lieutenant governor here.

In Washington, federal investigations of Mr. Abramoff, a close ally of Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, have revealed that Mr. Abramoff paid Mr. Reed's consulting firm more than $4 million to help organize Christian opposition to Indian casinos in Texas and Louisiana - money that came from other Indians with rival casinos.

Mr. Reed declined to comment for this article; he has said publicly that he did not know that casino owners were paying for his services and that he has never deviated from his moral opposition to gambling. But the episode is a new blemish on the boyish face that once personified the rise of evangelical Christians to political power in America.

Some of Mr. Reed's past patrons - including the Rev. Pat Robertson, the Christian broadcaster who set Mr. Reed on the national stage by hiring him to run the Christian Coalition - say his work with Mr. Abramoff's Indian casino clients raises questions about how he has balanced his personal ambitions with his Christian principles.

"You know that song about the Rhinestone Cowboy, 'There's been a load of compromising on the road to my horizon,' " Mr. Robertson said. "The Bible says you can't serve God and Mammon."

Addendum: Later this morning I remember Mr. Robertson's involvement with diamond mines, and Greg Palast tells me there was so much more involved.
One of Robertson's former business partners recalled that, although he often travelled in the minister's jet, he never saw Robertson crack open a Bible. 'Everywhere we were flying he had the Wall Street Journal and Investors' Daily.'
Well, as he said: you can't serve God and mammon.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Walter Cardinal Kasper

I am "stealing" this from Prior Aelred because I don't have the ready access to this information that I should have, or the time to seek it out and put it here on my own. And it answers a few issues that have been percolating with me, regarding the gap between Christian doctrine and the general perception of Christian doctrine.

As Prior Aelred says, we need some hope for a Christianity for grown ups. These are some steps toward that hope:

• "Faith does not mean a believing-to-be-true of wonderful facts and sets of beliefs that have authoritatively been put before us."

• "Dogmas can certainly be one-sided, superficial, bossy, dumb, and rash."

• Christ "presumably did not call himself either Messiah or Servant of God or Son of God and probably not Son of Man either."

• The dogma that Jesus is "completely man and completely God" is able to be superceded.

• Kasper writes "that we must call the many miracle stories in the Gospels legendary."

• Although Kasper admits Jesus performed healings: "On the other hand, with some probability one need not consider [the] so-called natural miracles as historical."

• The Resurrection of Jesus is "no objectively and neutrally ascertainable historical fact."

• Regarding the oldest account of the Easter event (Mk 16:1-, Kasper comments "that here we are not talking about historical characteristics but [linguistic] means of style which are to get people's attention and create excitement." Other New Testament factual claims about the Easter and Ascension accounts, too, are mere "means of style" for Kasper.

• Statements about the immanent Trinity or about the pre-existence of Christ are, according to Kasper, "not direct statements of faith but theological statements of reflection."

• Kasper also speaks of the "Resurrection of each individual at death." Hence "any talk of life after death is misleading." In addition, any talk of heaven, hell, and purgatory is "a very inappropriate, indeed misleading way of speaking."

• By the "not very fortunate expression 'infallibility of the Church'" is meant "that the Church . . . cannot definitively fall back to the status of synagogue and cannot deny Christ definitively."

• The dogma of the Church's universal mediatorship of salvation, clothed in the words "extra ecclesiam nulla salus" ["no salvation outside the Church"], which is most important for ecumenical conversations, Kasper calls a "most misunderstandable phrase.”