Monday, December 18, 2006

Waiting, Waiting...

It's a truism to say that Decembers are hectic. But it is doubly so for me and my family. I have two children, both born in the month of December, 7 days apart (the 10th and 17th). This wouldn't necessarily be so difficult if it wasn't for the fact that these birthdays mean that my wife and I get little time to unwind from Thanksgiving before we are thrust into the treacherous waters of birthdays . And just when the last birthday (my son's) is over, we have Christmas only 7 days away with all of its familial entanglements to contend with. All of this during the time of the Christian calendar that is suppose to be about waiting and expectation. I can hardly wait until its all over.

Because I've started blogging, I've peruse other blogs (both Lutheran and not) to see what works and what doesn't; standing on the shoulders of giants as it were. As you might know, the topic du jour is the Episcopalian Church and its, well, familial entanglements. I've read a lot about this the last 2 weeks. The amount of bile on this issue is truly astounding and very sad and painful to read about -- there but by the grace of God go the ELCA. This issue put me in a bad mood. Then I read this (#5) which agitated me more than I expected: First, it's patently not true and quite insulting; second I realized the distance between Protestants and Catholics is still quite large and doesn't look like it will be healed any time soon.

But what really irks me is that these things are happening at a time of year when Christians are to wait, with humility and expectation, the coming of the Lord. The Christ child. The Word made flesh. The Messiah.

Not the coming of the conservative, anti-gay, I'm taking my ball and leaving U.S. Anglican Lord; not the smug, self-righteous, One-True-Church Catholic Lord; not the I'm-ok-you're-ok, can't we all just get along liberal Protestant Lord. This is the coming of the Lord; the Word made flesh. The one who will, through his death and resurrection, reconcile a shitty world to God. A world who, like John the Baptist said, is "not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals". And this is how we prepare for his birth? (Weeping Jesus on the cross......). All of this is a terrible distraction from contemplating the miraculous and mysterious birth of our dear Lord Jesus Christ.

I remember as a child feeling, with palpable reality, the mystery of Advent. The specialness, the anticipation, the rich traditions which made Advent -- and of course Christmas -- a favorite time of year (the presents didn't hurt of course). Now everything seems drab and bland and quite distant. Inter-Nicene feuding, consumerism, work and family stresses keep Advent (and Christmas) just out of reach. I hope I can get a glimpse before it's all over.

P.S. I read this poem and I felt a little better. I like the way Marty writes.


  1. I certainly can understand why a Lutheran would disagree with Newman's maxims, but I don't know why he should be insulted by them. I presume you find maxims #3 & #4 especially objectionable, but why be insulted by them? They simply state, in a direct way, what Catholicism has always said about itself. Orthodoxy is no less direct and exclusive in its self-claims. I grant that contemporary Catholic ecclesiologists mute and nuance these claims for ecumenical purposes, but when push comes to shove the claims remain. If the Catholic Church were to abandon them she would simply become one more impotent denomination along the lines of ECUSA, ELCA, or the PCUSA.

    Perhaps I should have waited until after the Christmas season to post the Newman maxims, but at the time I wasn't thinking seasonally. I needed something to post and they were at hand. Sorry to have dampened the holidays spirits. :-)

  2. Yes, "insulted" might have been too strong a word. Maybe "miffed" might have been a better choice. I can understand 1-4 from a Catholic perspective but, yes, I don't agree. My problem is that this syllogism breaks down at #5 in a very stark way. I'm glad that the RC mutes them for the sake of ecumenical harmony. Especially if gathering back the protestant diaspora is importantant to Rome.

    I also disagree with the term "impotent" but I understand what you mean in light of your well cronicled conversion (congratulations btw, you looked happy after your ordination).

    In any event, I found out more about Newman than I had know before which is good (funny how that happens when reading your blog). And my Christmas spirits aren't any worse for wear; you needn't have apologized. Have a blessed Christmas Father.

  3. Pontificator commented: "If the Catholic Church were to abandon them she would simply become one more impotent denomination along the lines of ECUSA, ELCA, or the PCUSA."

    Now there's a backhanded insult.

  4. Dash misperceives Fr. Al's comments as a backhanded insult: It is quite straightforward -- though "insult" conveys mean-spiritedness, which you may not have intended and which I am sure Fr. Al did not intend. I might grant that his was a relatively mild phrasing, compared to his lambasting before and after his swim across the Tiber. But backhanded, it most certainly was not. Fr. Al is pretty darn good at saying what he means, without sugar-coating it.

    By the way, Steven, I must get you Fr. Al's article, "Eating Christ." I think you will find it as exciting and inspiring as I did. (Of course, I may be biased because we share a sacramentology teacher in Robert Jenson. So birds of a feather, and all of that -- even though we fly in different flocks.)

    On this matter, more directly: It is a tough nut to crack just what the "place" of Rome is in Christian ecclesiology. My Confessions class had drilled into us that Lutherans are a "confessing movement within the Church catholic" and that -- to paraphrase the Augustana -- if the pope grants the Gospel, we'll grant the pope. By that reading, the Lutheran Church is not meant to be permanent; we mean to reconcile with Rome, God willing, under the guidance of the Spirit. And the modern ecumenical movement gives some glimmer of hope that that can be achieved. (Though, see Jenson's "Unbaptized God" for a rebuke of all parties for failing to see through to the real issue dividing us.)

    Many notable Lutherans deny that claim and assert that denominationalism is a perfectly appropriate way for Christianity to exist. By that reading, you are right to be insulted by Newman's propositions (well, some of them), and Fr. Al may be somewhat naive to question your feeling insulted. (It is a matter of two completely mismatched worldviews coming into conversation, I think.)

    So the question becomes, I think: Where is the Church (by which we must meant "churches") going? Newman's may be an altogether innocent description of fact (I rather think, after talking to you about this, that I agree with Newman -- but I'd want to explain and define terms.)

    Given some chatter among theologians that has resulted in Pope Benedict's being called "the Lutheran pope" (no doubt with tongue in cheek), it may well be the case that the Roman Catholic church to which we are all tending will feature the writings of Cardinal Ratzinger, John Henry Newman, and Martin Luther all together on the shelf of authorities.