In his comment to my post below and in a new post on his blog, the Anglican Scotist takes issue with my suggestion that those representing the national church and those clergy with progressive political views remember that demands for justice in church flow best from acknowledging God’s call to humanity in light of what God has done for us through Jesus Christ.
Granted, loosey goosey lefty preachers might preach social justice and
be too dull to notice the sacramental context in which they preach is
soaked in political references, but there is also a loosey goosey
mentality perversely abstracting the Eucharist from the political, as
if real labor and real money and real paychecks and real exchanges were
not actually involved and actually sanctified, as if it were all just
symbolic or even pretend.
I can’t tell if he’s directly accusing me of holding the second “a loosey goosey
mentality [that] perversely abstract[s] the Eucharist from the political” or not… If he is, it’s a caricature and not an accurate representation of what I said or believe. I agree that there are some who have tried to make a hard separation between the religious and the political and that doesn’t make sense to me either. You can’t pray the Psalms and believe that “YHWH is king” has no political implications.
However, let me reiterate to clarify my position to the Scotist. The Eucharist is a powerful multivalent symbol. The Eucharist is misunderstood whenever we attempt to reduce its complexity. Our historic liturgy and architecture is designed to highlight these multivalent elements and the move in recent years to change things has resulted in just such a reduction. That is, an east-wall altar speaks of a table, a sacrificial altar, and a tomb. The bread, wine, and water speak of simple family meals, the fruits of the earth,and—yes—the products of human labor. The liturgical words speak of covenant relationships, political injustice, the triumph of love, and a God who choose to permeate human life through multiple modes of presence and incarnation. And these items that I have pointed out just barely scratch the surface…
I would not claim that the Eucharist is “simply religious,” abstracted from the political. That’s not how I understand “religious”—it can never be “simply” anything because it’s fundamentally not simple.
In a similar fashion, I would hope that the Scotist would shy away from reducing the Eucharist to the purely economic or even political and miss the full splendor of its spectrum of meanings.
“I can’t tell if he’s directly accusing me of holding the second “a loosey goosey
mentality [that] perversely abstract[s] the Eucharist from the political” or not…”
I apologize, but I think you ought to read what he wrote more carefully. I left my comments on his blog to save offending you.
It is political, of course, but a politics that can never be reduced to any earthly movement, no matter how good or grand or glorious. I find the Eucharist ha a liminal effect on us if we’re honest because not only is this the Body and Blood of the One who was tortured to death by us, this is the Body and Blood of the One who rises and forgives us. None of us, outside of this One who freely chose the place of shame, are stain-free, in other words, and though we should expect to be spurred on to do good for neighbor to do right by neighbor, even to walk into shame ourselves by grace for the sake of neighbor, our own capability to destroy should be ever before us, and self-righteousness is usually the first sign that murder is in our hearts.
What concerns me is when we preach a program rather than Christ from the pulpit. The program can run the gamut from Family Values moralizing to Social Justice moralizing. Moralizing is always the first tip that we’re in danger of self-righteousness.
Hearing of Christ first, of this One who stands in for me, who forces me to face all in my heart that desires murder and to face those whom I would rather push into the place of shame, I am better equipped to do unto others as I would have done to me. Or in the words of Abba Benedict, to greet Christ in all comers.
Hearing of a program, I am more likely to think myself on the good side, and do unto those on the wrong side like I would not done unto me. Too often that is the implication at any rate.
All too true, Christopher. The Gospel mocks us all – thank the merciful God.
It goes back to the idea of balance. As Christians we acknowledge that there is indeed a distinction between the sacred and the secular. There is one God who is distinct from his creation. The difference is qualitative, not quantitative.
Furthermore, as Christians we acknowledge that God in Christ has taken upon human flesh becoming fully God and fully man–the sacred interpenetrates the secular.
This creates a conundrum–perhaps a paradox–not easily comprehended. Liturgy is one of the vehicles for its comprehension. The experience of liturgy itself brings us to the apprehension of truths that cannot be explained or argued–only grasped. God is immanent and God is transcendent. To fall too much to one side or the other is problematic. This is the problem in much I hear from our leadership these days: a falling out of balance.
One of the reasons I strictly observe the rubric on page 361, placing the peoples offerings not only of bread and wine, but money too, on the Altar (and leaving them there through to the ablutions) is to remind myself and all present that the church is indeed a means to employ such things to the good of the world. I’ve been to far to many liturgies where the offerings of money are whisked away — if they are placed on the altar at all it is only momentary — and rendered out of sight and mind.
The Gospel mocks us all – thank the merciful God. I like that.
Worship is prior to politics and praying shapes justice. Whenever we begin to think/act as though it is the other way around we succumb to the idolatry of ideology.
We cannot claim to speak for the Holy Dove if we are parrots of prevailing political prejudices.
For Christians, the Church is the primary political entity (cf. yesterday’s lesson from 1 Peter). Failure to understand this leads, one way or another, to idolatry of the nation-state.
Out of our worship, the Church lives into peace (or should) and bears witness against war, torture, and all other violence. Out of our worship the Church serves and advocates for “the least of these”.
I did not mean to directly accuse you or anyone else of anything in particular. If I did, I would not hesitate–please believe me–to mention it.
Actually, I have no idea whether the point actually applies in this or that particular case, and am quite happy about being deliberately vague.
To Derek in particular,
Can we, can the church, ever be sure and certain of escaping moralizing? I doubt it–in fact, forget about it.
Take my post and your reply to me, for example. In as much as it has any normative force, we seem to be implying we do not–or at least do not intend–to make the kind of mistakes we describe, and we clearly do not want the church to void itself of a moral response to the Gospel. That’s mostly all good.
“Mostly”: what matters, given that the church absolutely must moralize, is that it recognize in the very act of its moralizing that it may be wrong. The church has to take moral stands about which it may have to repent. As long as it is ready to repent, it’s not in the position of the Pharisee who says “Thank God I’m not like those people.”
For instance, it seems there are very clear and compelling grounds–both liturgical and Scriptural–for moralizing about the family, and for moralizing about society from the pulpit. It seems to me that preachers are obliged to say “Don’t commit adultery!” or “Don’t cheat the poor and the widows and the fatherless!” from time to time, and not just b/c the Gospel and the Law and the Prophets are chuck full of such things.
Now, if your reply is that you do not object to such preaching “from time to time”, but meant “all the time” then I would tentatively suggest both 815 and the family-values crowd–they don’t preach that way all the time either.
Anyhow, I suspect maybe our real issue is not so much about social justice, as about something else perhaps harder to see. Here is a hypothesis:
a low-church, left-wing evangelical movement is taking over the mainstream.
That’s what is causing the fuss, perhaps: the loss of the vertical dimension, or perhaps one might say the Eastern side of the early Church. If the 79 BCP trends Anglo-catholic, what it the next BCP trends low-church left evangelical? That would explain soem of the differences we’ve had over social justice and CWOB. You are not really arguing so much against me, as I would insist on teh vertical, Eastern element in teh BCP as essential–and I think we’d agree about that. You are really arguing, it seems, against the approaching tidal wave of low-church left wing evangelical sensibilty, which is not quite latitudinarian, or MCU, but has little patience with metaphysical theology.
FWIW, if there is any question: I’m not very sympathetic to low-church, left wing evangelicalism, presuming of course that it exists.
It seems to me, Scotist, that it has little patience with theology period, and especially any theology that has an eschatological dimension that prevents collapse of our works for neighbor care into the Kingdom of God–as if we can ever bring in the Kingdom of God!
Being sick yesterday, I reread Stringfellow’s “Dissenter in a Great Society”. His is an incredible biblical theological antidote to this eschatological collapse (the loss of the Eastward facing perspective), as there perhaps like nowwhere else he presents what might be called a left-wing evangelicalism with sacramental tendencies that leaves room for God’s criticism of all movements.
I’m certainly opposed to reductionism… I believe one of the reasons that the liturgy is so important is because of its multivalence. It can speak of the personal, the corporate, the mystical and the political all at the same time… The problem is that too often the many facets of the multivalence aren’t taught either by clergy or seminaries so people feel free to change whatever they want willy-nilly without a care for the meaning they lop off…
You may well be right about the low-church left-wing evangelicalism. But even the low church don’t banish talk of God from their services.
I have less problem with moralizing than Christopher—after all, teaching and promoting the growth of virtue is a form of “moralizing” if the word is taken literally without the pejorative connotations. What I have a serious problem with—on both right and left—is moralizing from the pulpit that is disconnected from the Gospel. (I have yet to ave anyone from the right help me out with my questions on biblical marriage…)
That’s my real issue: The Gospel must be proclaimed and taken seriously. Yes, that inevitably includes how we live our embodied lives in light of the Gospel message which includes how we should and shouldn’t behave. But it’s got to start with the Gospel.
I associate moralizing with a program and often with the demonizing of someone in our own self-righteousness. I’ve heard it from pulpits left, right, and center. It often has pre-fab answers to difficult and particular or unusual cases without consideration of persons and tends to the legalistic without due respect for the spirit of the law.
I’m not opposed to exhortation to virtues.
For example, it’s one thing to present faithfulness in marriage as a case of neighbor care in response to God’s faithfulness to us as revealed in Christ. It’s quite another to just pull a bunch of scriptural passages out to pound gay people over the head–or rich people or women or….
When the emphasis is first on God’s faithfulness/stability (the virtue in this case) and demonstrating ways we are called to live that out, it just comes across quite differently, and opens invitation for me to ask how I too might live out a response to God’s faithfulness in my own life.
You seem not to have a problem with the idea that a preacher is obligated to morally exhort the congregation–even when the preacher makes rather fine-grained moral points.
You’ve got a problem, rather, with coarse preaching, or a preacher who gets the point wrong–pounding people of group Z over teh head with passages ripped from context.
But what if there is a group of people–call them Group F–who are in need of correction, who are disposed to some genuine mortal sin. Would it be OK–in your view–to quote Scripture in context, with backing from the very best scholarship, and hit people over the head with it?
Is there any instance where hitting people over the head and smacking them around with Scripture would be OK? If you were preaching to slaveholders? Nazi Christians?
There are places and times where a preacher has to open a Bible of Whup Ass, so to speak, on a parish.
That may end up being a terrible thing, sure; the preacher may end up being wrong and out of a job. So what? That is beside the point.
On the issue of low-church left evangelicalism,
I’d bet this is going to be how the mainstream, including the Episcopal Church, goes–and that the prayer book will come to reflect its sensibility. And it may be that this is where the Spirit goes, period.
I just do not see how an Anglo-catholic or high church sensibility can characterize any modern mainstream denomination as a whole for a serious length of time; it’s more at home in the minority, even as “the loyal opposition.” But maybe I’m mistaken.
The possible problem is that a low church movement mixed up about sacraments (for instance, unable to articulate the normative connection between baptism and eucharist) begins to de-emphasize sacramental life, and ends up disconnecting it from the lives of the congregants outside the walls.
However, given the hard choice between lousy preaching and lousy sacraments, give me lousy preaching.
Why? (1)The Creeds contain the Gospel, like a triple shot of fine bourbon clean–distilled, pure, and aged well; (2)all the Eucharistic Prayers contain the Gospel at greater length than the Creeds, in case someone missed it at the Creed; (3)even lousy preaching that does not touch on the scriptural coordinates of the Gospel, given for instance by Paul or Luke’s Peter, can model what proclamation of the Gospel in one’s life looks like–expounding on a Gospel parable, for instance. That is worth something, at least in terms of mimesis.
Of course, it would be better not to have to make such a hard choice, but it seemed you were putting an awful lot of emphasis on preaching carrying on every occasion a very precise content.
Here is precisely why I am very careful. As you can imagine I’ve taken more than one beating from the pulpit in my lifetime. Now, I just get up and walkout right down the aisle with the door closed loudly for all to hear.
I am reminded of Fr. Charlie Andrews who preached from the pulpit of his parish in South Africa inspired by Mahatma Gandhi. He preached of Christ in whom is found the dignity of all irrespective of color or ethnicity. And some white folks walked out.
There is a way to proclaim the Good News for all without getting on one’s own high horse. There is a way to exhort to the excellence of Christ without moving into the place of condemnation and I am more likely to touch the hardened hearts of at least some few of even those who have imbibed a hatred of the Jews or a taste for ownership of fellows. To do so requires more than a quick thump over the head with Scripture, even with the best of Scholarship and contextual analyses.
As a preacher, irrespective of whether or not I am ordained, when I enter the pulpit, I take up a pastoral and priestly mantel, and that means I must reach even the most hardened if at all possible. Or, I might rather say, that in my case, I would take up a prophetic mantel, of which, the primary purpose is to preach God’s Good News in Christ. That requires skill, compassion, and a willingness to use whatever imagery, words, turn of phrase at my disposel to connect the humanity of those before me with the humanity of those whom they despise that Christ might be revealed.
And yes, one might have to take the consequences, as Fritz von Bodelschwingh and Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew well, but if just one, just one Nazi Christian or one slaveholder came to see the humanity of those whom he or she had despised, then it is worth care. I would rather exhort for the Gospel and not my own self-righteousness even if it kills me from the pulpit and I would rather give a good thump–and believe there are times when I would.
Does that mean don’t speak out. No. And as a layman, by God’s grace, I would leave the pulpit immedietely thereafter and be out in the streets, protesting or doing whatever I could to resist, but from the pulpit, I am compelled to preach Christ and Christ Crucified that even the most wretched among us might hear of him and live.
A good beating by Scripture might have confirmed John Newton in his ways. But the opening of Scripture that he might see Christ in the one he beat as a slave, well, that takes God’s grace and preachers willing to suffer themselves.
On your points in 12, Scotist, sometimes a preacher does open a Bible of Whup Ass on a parish and ends up being both *right* and out of a job… But, hey, that’s one of the occupational hazards of the profession.
On 13, M and I have often remarked to one another that the joy of being an Episcopalian is that even when the preaching sucks we still have the liturgy…which is why I don’t want them to take it away!!
In this specific case I was concentrating on the sermon not because it was the only important part of the service (God forbid!) but because it gave me access to what an 815 staff member would say and do in a proclamatory setting. Too, focusing on sermons is kind of an occupational hazard for me since I teach preaching.
I agree that an Anglo-Catholic sensibility will probably not be a majority in a postmodern American setting nevertheless I don’t think that means we have to abandon a general understanding of sacramental richness. It’s not that our clergy and people have worked through the various philosophical and theological angles and have corporately decided on a lower view of the sacraments, it’s that many clergy and laity don’t have a solid understanding of the sacraments to begin with. Formation and education is the issue here. It’s fine with me if people *choose* to be low; what I take issue with is when it is forced upon them due to a dearth of options.