Simon Yisrael Feuerman, “A Congregation Can Be Like a Family—for Better, and for Worse”
So, these men in shul, like them or not, are my family. And as with family, there are spats, blow-ups, insults, and people who are impossible to tolerate for even a second longer. But the bond that holds us together remains.
That’s what I tell myself when I encounter another example of puzzling people in shul: One man I know hates the rabbi and yet he is there every day—morning, noon, and night—and on Shabbes, too. Every time the rabbi says something, he mutters expletives under his breath. Sometimes he will badmouth the rabbi to whomever is sitting next to him. One day I asked him with some tenderness, “Why not pray in a shul where you like the rabbi?”
“It’s true that I have my reservations about the rabbi,” he stammered, “but I still haven’t made up my mind about him.”
“How long have you been coming here?” I asked.
Mike Higton, “Authenticity”
By ‘the authenticity meme’, I mean that picture of the self which suggests that what is real, what is true, what is most properly me, is what goes on inside, behind closed doors, away from the distorting, inauthentic traffic of social life. I mean that picture of the self which suggests that my task is to work on the deceitful surface of my life – all the faces that I present in interactions with others, in groups, in institutions, in society – until it becomes transparent to the authentic depths of who I am. I mean that picture of the self which suggests that you have not met me – not the real me – until I have become authentic with you.
In the face of this corrosive myth, I offer a counter-myth.
I claim that I become who I am only with and through others – and that I discover who I am only in company. Who I am. That is: what I can contribute, what my real strengths and weaknesses are, what I need, what I want, what I can give, how responsive I can be. All these are not sitting there quietly inside me, waiting only upon sufficient introspection, a sufficient effort of honesty, to become clear to me and so expressible to others. Rather, they will emerge (both in the sense of becoming visible and in the sense of coming into being) as I enter seriously into conversation with others, experimenting, exploring, trying out, working – and so finding what resistances and what possibilities emerge over the course of those conversations. And the self I find in the process will be, and can only be, something that both discovered and made in the process. That is, the self I find would have been different had my conversation partners been different, and would have been different had it been someone else engaging with these same conversation partners – but there is in principle and in practice no sorting out what I have brought to this self from what others have brought to it.
from Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Ash Wednesday sermon
And this God of which I speak is nothing if not a God of hope and promise. Here’s the image I have of Ash Wednesday: If our lives were a long piece of fabric with our baptism on one end and our funeral on another, and us not knowing what the distance is between the two, well then Ash Wednesday is a time when that fabric is pinched in the middle and then held up so that our baptism in the past and our funeral in the future meet. With these ashes it is as though the water and words from our baptism plus the earth and words from our funerals have come from the future to meet us here today. And in that meeting we are reminded of the promises of God. Promises which outlast our piety, outlast our efforts in self-improvement, outlast our earthly bodies and the limits of time.
No week in recent history has this been as real to me as now. Yesterday I stood in a small restaurant on 6th ave and preached at the funeral of a 29 year old who took his own life. A man I’d never met. I don’t generally agree to do weddings and funerals of those who are not a part of this church. But Billy was queer and an artist and suffered from bi-polar and addiction so it felt like he could have belonged to us. So I stood and spoke of love and Jesus. And I looked his mother in the eyes and said that God is always present in love and in suffering. And that God was present both the moment Billy entered this world and the moment Billy left this world.
We are dust and to dust we return.
Casey N. Cep, “Inside the Cloister” | The New Yorker
And there again are the familiar contours of love, where struggle makes meaning. The costs of obedience at Rockford are Sister Mary Clara crying at the sound of school buses, which remind her of the children she used to teach; claustrophobic Sister Mary Nicolette, who hoped to have a large family, but lives now in a seventy-eight-square-foot room; and Sister Maria Benedicta saying that making vows means “everything you’ve ever believed in, you’re giving up; or everything you’ve dreamed of, it’s not important anymore.”
But sacrifice can be made into a discipline, an art of loss that can be mastered. That is how Sister Maria Deo Gratias can describe the vow of chastity as “freedom, because we can give ourselves totally to God and we don’t have divided responsibilities.” And how the women can experience enclosure as liberty, not prison: laughing instead of recoiling when one woman’s four-year-old great-niece says they live in a “Jesus cage.” They laugh because the world thinks that the metal grille keeps them caged in, but they feel that the bars keep the world out.
Reading that story and so many others in “Dedicated to God” reminded me of Philip Gröning’s stunning documentary “Into Great Silence,” which portrays a community of Carthusian monks in the French Alps. The film is almost entirely silent—no commentary from the director or dialogue from the subjects—until a scene where the monks go sledding, when it explodes with the sound of their laughter.
Does not the cry ‘My God, My God, why have you deserted me?’ convince us that God never leaves us?
UPDATE: Perhaps I should say something about why I think this counterintuitive sentence should be answered with a “Yes.”
If God incarnate once joined (Mark 15:34) our (Psalm 22:1) human despair, then we are thereby guaranteed that even in our bleakest hour, He remains present. As the New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham puts it, “On the level of a theological understanding of the cry, it must be that Jesus asks the question, not on his own behalf, but as the question asked by those with whom his use of the words identifies him. It is their protest that he voices on their behalf. This is the fullest meaning of the fact that the words of Jesus’ cry are borrowed from the psalms of lament.”
Eve Tushnet, "Four Thoughts on Gay Catholic Whatnot." I basically couldn’t think this point is more important than I do. And I tried to make it in my own (much less sharp and creative) way here, as Eve notes.
Openly acknowledging our conflicting allegiances here–our membership in separated churches, our affiliation with divergent traditions–would shift the way we do dialogue. It mostly wouldn’t lead us to rational debate, since authority is primarily an aesthetic movement of love rather than a rational movement of adducing evidence. (Adducing evidence can be a part of how we come to trust an authority–that was a part of Leah Libresco’s conversion, for example–and reasoned argument aimed at clearing away misconceptions was a big part of my own conversion. But overall, authority is what we love, not what we understand.)
But openly acknowledging and discussing our allegiances might actually turn down the emotional volume a bit. My sense is that “I accept the Catholic Church’s authority in my life because…” vs. “I don’t accept it in this area because…” is a somewhat less-fraught framing than, “I believe and do my best to live out X about homosexuality” vs. “I believe etc not-X.” We’re no longer speaking about rules and generalizations but about the specific Church we love. Where do we obey? Where do we accept the familial bond of obligation, the humiliations (and feelings of alienation) which come with belonging but also the trust and commitment?
From The Minimum Bible.
Final essay project for students in my Pauline Epistles class? “Explain how this art piece is an interpretation of the letter to the Romans.”
(h/t Jeff Chu on Twitter)
Dale M. Coulter
The historical development of Lent corresponded to the construction of a Christian culture and thus the redemption of cultural life. It formed part of the message that upon entering the faith, the individual entered into an alternative way of existing in the world in which time was understood differently. The patterns of one’s existence now corresponded to a new narrative about the history of the world as one of creation and redemption in and through Jesus Christ. This is the link between the fasting and prayer that catechumens engaged in prior to undergoing baptism, confirmation, and first Eucharist and the incorporation of those practices into a Lenten season as part of the movement toward Easter.
As a cultural practice, then, Lent concerns the ongoing mission of the churches. Sometimes pastors or priests will talk about Lent as part of an individual’s ongoing conversion, because the person enters a prolonged period of heightened spiritual awareness in which acts of repentance and acts of mercy form the preparation for Easter celebration. While this may personalize Lent, the global culture that it communicates relates more to cosmic salvation and the mission to bring all of life under the authority of Christ. It may be that the importance of Lent resides in its reminder of the continuing mission to transform culture by the creation of new cultural forms of life that attest to the arrival of a new race of people.
The sign at the corner of the property
at the foot of the driveway—”No
eighteen wheelers allowed in the church
parking lot”—may be exactly the confirmation
I needed that I am currently passing
by a Baptist church a little to the south
of Chattanooga. Was it a recurring problem
that led to its posting? Did the congregation
rebel or reach the proverbial tipping point?
Even so, I’d like to think they would make
an exception, that every once in a great
while they might wave the driver toward them
with his truckload of passengers battered
bruiseful by all of the loveless difficulties
that make up so very much of this life,
not pallets of freight they’d come to expect
but many blemished ones hungry to the point
of being famished, urgent for the Son
rising with his big paper-carrier’s bag
of good news and promises or even simple
reassurances like, You are not going
to perish now, or You are mightily
welcomed here, even though you’re fully
known here, and so on. Against hope, I hope
sometimes that those Baptists are smiling
as they direct the eighteen-wheeler’s driver
forward, forward with the bird’s-wing flutters
of their sweet, inviting hands, as if saying
Pull yourself on in here now, buddy.
You take up as many spaces as you need,
while already his long trailer is being
unlatched and its metal door rolled up
so as to let that Tennessee light pour in,
clarifying its darkened conveyances,
especially brightened on Sunday morning
as I imagine it now, while driving slowly
on Spring Creek Road south of Chattanooga.
Aaron Taylor, “Queering the Marriage Debate?” | Ethika Politika
The standard conservative Christian reaction to the expansion of the “nuclear family” to include gay families has been to redouble the defense of the 1950s hetero-patriarchal model, as if this model were of Divine institution. Modern “traditional marriage” apologists wax lyrical about the nuclear family as the fundamental cell-unit of the political community and above all as the healthiest environment for raising children.
Yet this argument is circular and unconvincing to anyone outside the conservative Christian subculture because it relies on precisely the social constructs called into question by the gay marriage debate. Naturally, if you live in a society that values the heterosexual nuclear family as the ideal, children raised within this structure will be ideally situated for participation in that structure, and social science will “prove” that this is the best environment for raising children, just as, had it existed in the thirteenth century, social science would have “proved” that the best way to raise a child was to send him to a monastery at 7 or 8-years-old.
This is my commonplace book and sometime-journal.
I blog at SpiritualFriendship.org.
My book is here: Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality.
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