Posts Tagged 'Theology'

On the Christian Calender

My friend Halden over at Inhabitatio Dei just did a post yesterday entitled “On this day…”, and while his aim in the post was to discuss the Augsburg Confession it raised a question in my mind concerning the Christian calender: How is an event or person deemed valid for inclusion into the calender year?

While for some the idea of the Christian calender may be foreign, especially given the low-church tendencies of the N. American expression of Evangelicalism; however, for much of the Church scattered throughout the world, in centuries past, presently, and most likely in centuries to come (I’m thinking here specifically of the dominant presence of Christians in the world found in the “global south” which tend to ), the liturgical calender of the Church is a primary staple in Christian worship. As with most conceptions of time, framed in political schemes rather than philosophical ones, the Christian (or Liturgical) calender is centered around God’s drama of redemption, bearing witness through the Church’s celebration to God’s redemptive acts in human history. For those, like myself, who may not come from a high-church background or liturgical community, the idea of the Christian calender may seem new and novel. However, such political framing of time, despite what some may think, is nothing new to anyone. While people may not consciously realize it or directly acknowledge it, everyone participates in some political schema of time which ascribes value to certain persons and events, namely, those that have established or furthered the values of a particular people. Therefore, countries like America that value things like independence and freedom, democracy and civil rights, have certain days to commemorate and celebrate the events and people that have sought to see these values actualized (i.e the 4th of July – America’s Independence day, Martin Luther King, Jr. day, Presidents day, Presidential election day, etc.). Participation in such national “holy” days is an endorsement of the values underlying these celebrations. It acknowledges an allegiance, at whatever level, to a certain socio-political structuring of time that functions determinatively to ascribe value to people, days, and events (while some may object here to the language of allegiance, felling that it might be too strong, I would suggest that what goes on in the socio-political structuring of time is nothing short of baptizing certain people, places and events into the value system of the nation-state with the end of endorsing and furthering these values. It is not an arbitrary fact that in schools and other social gatherings people are called upon, not asked, to recite the pledge of allegiance: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands…” ; and to not do so is deemed subversive and rebellious).

Coming back to Christian calender, the People of God have consciously acknowledged this political laden reality of time and, therefore, operate according to a Theo-political conception of time – a schema that frames time in terms of God’s saving acts in his drama of redemption. This Theo-political understanding of time, in contrast to the socio-political conception of the nation-state, has its own allegiances (namely, to the Lordship of Christ), values, and holy people, places, and events. Among other things, the Church celebrates the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ, and to an obviously lesser extent the lives of saints throughout history.

With that said, I want to come by to my initial question that has prompted this post: By what criteria is an event or person deemed valid for inclusion into the calender year? Or maybe its better to ask the question this way, along similar lines of the biblical canon: How are certain events and people recognized as deserving to be included into the “canon” of the Christian calender? For certain, God’s great drama of redemption is not over; there is more to come, and God is continually act work in the our world. Along the lines of socio-political conception, is it those people and events that seek to embody and further the values and life of a particular community (in this case the People of God) that deserve inclusion? I’m interested to hear peoples thoughts and ideas on this issue; so tell me: who and what makes it into the calender and why?

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Pope Benedict on God as Creator and Redeemer

“The truth is that the rejection of Creator and creation, which Marcion shares with the wide stream of so-called gnosis, generated not only an ascetical contempt for the body, but also a cynical libertinism, for this too displays in reality a hatred of the body, of man, and of the world…In the false ascetism that is hostile to creation, the body becomes a dirty bag of maggots that deserves only disdain or, indeed, ill treatment. Similarly, the basic principle underlying libertinism is the degradation of the body to a mere thing. Its exclusion from the realm of ethics and of the mind’s responsibility means its exclusion from that which makes man human, its exclusion from the dignity of the spirit. It becomes a mere object, a thing, and thus the life of man, too becomes cheap and common…Where man despises his body–whether as an ascetic or as a libertine–he also despises his own self. Both an asceticism hostile to the creation and libertinism lead man by an inherent necessity to hate this life of his, to hate himself, indeed to hate reality as a whole, and herein lies the explosive political power of both these basic attitudes. A man who feels himself disgraced in this way would like to tear apart this prison of shame, that is, his body and the world, in order to escape from such humiliation. He cries out for another world because he hates the creation and the God who bears responsibility for all of this”
(Joseph Ratzinger, The God of Jesus Christ: Meditations on the Triune God (San Fransisco:Ignatius Press, 2008 ) pg 43-43)

Why Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had to die, and why I think he knew this

Yesterday marked the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, and, of coarse, all over people were talking about it. There were articles, radio programs, shows, etc. On one particular radio segment on NPR, interviews were held with family and friends recounting his life and the events taking place in the days leading up to 4 April, 1968.

On April 3rd, Dr. King had been in Memphis, Tenn. speaking in a crowded church regarding a strike that was taking place by sanitation workers over poor pay and working conditions. “The issue is injustice,” Dr. King stated in his message, “The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers.” Addressing the racial inequalities in the city, and consequent economic injustices, Dr. King spoke boldly and prophetically.
Drawing from Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan, Dr. King spoke of the responses of the Priest and Levite toward the man on the side of the road:

“And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” (All right)

But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” That’s the question before you tonight. (Yes) Not, “If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to my job?” Not, “If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?” (Yes) The question is not, “If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?” The question is, “If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?” That’s the question. [applause]

Dr. King was very well aware of the dangers and threats on his life that were being made as he spoke on April 3. Having been stabbed in the chest several years earlier by a demented woman with a letter opener, the tip of the blade on the edge of his aorta, he daily bore a reminder in the form of a scar. Making his awareness more explicit during his speech, Dr. King acknowledged to his audience that though he had seen the Promise Land, he may not make it there with them. In speaking of his uncertainty about what the “difficult days ahead” may hold, he, nevertheless, proclaimed great personal commitment to the mission at hand:

“[I]t really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. (Yeah) [applause] And I don’t mind. [applause continues] Like anybody, I would like to live a long life–longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will…And so I’m happy tonight; I’m not worried about anything; I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

As a minister of the gospel, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in quoting the biblical prophet Amos, sought to see “justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Seeking to bring justice to “the least of these,” those to whom justice had been withheld, Dr. King ran against the contemporary cultural current in pursuing justice and righteousness, in the name of love, by means of nonviolent protest. So why did he have to die, and why do I think he knew it? He had to die because he was seeking to live out the gospel of Christ, and I believe he knew this would most likely result in his death because he was aware of the subversive implications of this gospel-it undercuts and stands directly against all other powers and authorities.

Arthur McGill, in his book Suffering: A Test of Theological Method, also draws from Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan and speaks of the “shocking impracticality of Jesus’ teaching.” McGill asks

“If a man really possesses a readiness to expend himself for others, will they not take advantage of him? Will they not soon take all his clothes and borrow all his money? Of course, says Jesus. Of course, if you live in this way, you will be used up by others. Of course, they will take everything you have. That is why you should expect this self-expenditure to lead sooner or later to your death. He is quite clear and unafraid about the practical implications of his teaching” (McGill, 55).

Discipleship consists of following Jesus, and the way of Jesus is the way of the cross. Therefore, following him in his life of self-expenditure will lead to death. However, this is exactly what you want to happen, what you want people to do. McGill continues, “It is the essence of your love to want to be expended for others, and even to die for others” (McGill, 55).

Now, I know that many would likely object to using Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as an example of an exemplar Christian due to his extra-marital relations, etc. Nevertheless, just because someone doesn’t reflect Christ in one area of their life doesn’t mean that they can’t in another. My point is not whether or not he was an exemplar Christian in his whole life or had a perfect theological understanding of all of life (no one does!). I simply want to acknowledge that much of his life, his concern for racial equality, economic justice, his non-violent approach to those in opposition, and his willing self-expenditure, was self-confessedly rooted in the gospel, whatever other motiving factors there might have been. Because of this, he stands as a witness to the power of the gospel, a power that demonstrated in weakness, in self-expenditure, and love. In seeking to follow the call of Christ, he sought a life of self-expenditure, rooted in love, for the other. For Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., death was the logical outcome of such a life, just as it is for all who seek such a path in the service of our Lord.

Pope Benedict XVI on the name of God

“What, then, does “the name of God” mean? Perhaps it is easiest to grasp what this entails if we look at its opposite. The Revelation of John speaks of the adversary of God, the “beast”. This beast, the power opposed to God, has no name, but a number. The seer tells us: “Its number is six hundred and sixty-six” (13:18). It is a number, and it makes men numbers. We who lived through the world of the concentration camps know what that means. The terror of that world is rooted in the fact that it obliterates men’s faces. It obliterates their history. It makes man a number, an exchangeable cog in one big machine. He is his function – nothing more. Today, we must fear that the concentration camp was only a prelude and that the universal law of the machine may impose the structure of the concentration camp on the world as a whole. For when functions are all that exist, man, too, is nothing more than a function. The machines that he himself has constructed now impose their own law on him: he must be made readable for the computer, and this can be achieved only when he is translated into numbers. Everything else in man becomes irrelevant. Whatever is not a function is–nothing…But God has a name, and calls us by our name. He is a person, and seeks the person. He has a face, and he seeks our face. He has a heart, and he seeks our heart. For him, we are not some function in a “world machinery”. On the contrary, it is precisely those who have no function that are his own. A name allows me to be addressed. A name denotes community. This is why Christ is the true Moses, the fulfillment of the revelation of God’s name. He does not bring some new word as God’s name; he does more than this, since he himself is the face of God. He himself is the name of God. In him, we can address God as “you”, as person, as heart” (Ratzinger, Joseph. The God of Jesus Christ: Meditations on the Triune God (San Fransisco: Ignatius Press, 2008) p. 23-24)