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Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

I had a strange Lent and an even stranger Holy Week. While I last posted on Holy Saturday, nearly a month ago, the only Holy Week liturgies I attended were Palm Sunday and Good Friday. For the former, I was the narrator for the dramatic reading of Matthew’s Passion Gospel; for the latter, I went to the little parish where I grew up for a taste of old-fashioned Anglo-Catholic religion.

And then I woke up one day and realized that I no longer believed in what was in the Creeds. Actually, it was probably in the shower. I realize a lot of things in the shower. If I actually believed that other gods existed–which I did, and possibly always had–if I actually believed I could pray to Antinous, a deified Greek youth, and get a response–which I definitely did, and had–then I really was not a Christian.

I still believe Jesus was a historical person who lived and died and was resurrected, becoming divine even if he wasn’t pre-existently divine. I believe he was and is a God on the side of the poor, the occupied, the oppressed, the disenfranchised. It’s just that he and I really don’t have much of a relationship. I don’t think we ever have.

My relationship has always been with the tradition, with Anglicanism, with saints like Julian of Norwich, with the music of Byrd and Tallis, with poetry like Donne’s and Herbert’s, with writers like C.S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, T.S. Eliot, Charles Williams. Not, ironically, with the God who inspired them.

I’ve been praying and making offerings to Antinous and observing the festivals of the Ekklesía Antínoou for about the last month, with a good deal of personal satisfaction. I’ve started a side Tumblr where I’ve been writing about my experiments with devotional polytheism, Antinous for Everybody. I will still be posting here and hanging out on other WordPress blogs, though.

I feel like I have suffered a lot of losses in the past two years. Yet that has left me extraordinarily free to pursue my religious and creative aims. And I have been blessed with a stable job, good friends, and the company of my pet cockatiel Rembrandt, aka Spanky. It’s a good life.

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O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum,
lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem,
quem de limo formasti.

O King of the nations, and their desire, you are
the cornerstone makes us both one: 
Come, and save the creature which you fashioned from clay.

The reason why God came into the world as a human being, as Jesus, was to make one that which was divided in two. This is the absolute bottom line of theology.

He came to make one the creature and the Creator, separated by their natures, separated further by the creature’s sin.

He came to join together Jew and Gentile, to break down the most basic, the most unshakable division of the culture in which he was born, a division even more fundamental that the division of male and female. The Jews were a peculiar people, a race set apart; the function of many of the commandments in the Torah, of the laws about diet and clothing and what to sow and how to reap, was simply to separate the Jewish people from the nations around them, to make them *different*, and to remind them that what is different, like the wool of an animal and the linen spun from a plant, must always be kept separate.

He came, Paul boldly tells us, to erase the divisions of Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free. I submit that if Paul had had the concepts in his world, the words in his vocabulary, he would have added that Jesus came to erase the division of gay and straight, black and white, cisgender and transgender.

He came to unite heaven and earth, and to cure the most fundamental division of all, the one that lies deep inside each of us, between the clay of the earth from which we were formed and the breath of God’s life that was breathed into us.

It is my belief that no rule, no cult, no practice, no morality which relies on separation, division, and exclusion can be part of the way of Jesus, the Cornerstone, the unifier.

We democratic Americans are apt to think of a king as something we got rid of a long time ago, and good riddance, for all that people read tabloid articles about the British monarchy as fervently as about the Kardashians (and the Windsors, after all, have been famous for a good deal longer). A king is a useless object that sits on top of the heap of hierarchy and claims everything as his own.

My wanderings in the forest of druidry, my attempts to learn something about the ways of my pre-Christian ancestors, have given me a somewhat different model of a king, as the one who is not the top, but the center. In the great mead-hall of Tara, the high king of Ireland sat in state with his attendants about him, and at the four quarters of the hall, the lesser kings of the four provinces and their attendants, and everyone in their ordered ranks, with the fires burning. When chaos threatened, as in the nights of Samhain, the doors would be shut, and the order of the court about the king kept safe the order of the realm.

The Rex Gentium, the King of Nations who is their secret desire, is the king at the center, not at the top. Thus in the book of Revelation, the Lamb is upon the throne, with the four living creatures about him and the twenty-four elders encircling him, and the whole heavenly court with all its myriads of angels enclosed in a golden city which is a perfect cube. Christ is the cornerstone.

Come, and save the creature you fashioned from clay.

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…a good start would for social conservatives who love their Bible so much to actually read the whole thing. The writers of the Bible are pretty clear that those who oppress and do down the poor, the laborers, the widowed and orphaned are not doing the Lord’s work and are going to pay the price big-time when they die. So maybe they can start being more vocal about other things than abortion, same-sex marriage, and birth control.

DRS (via azspot)

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We in the church must, first, disabuse (this word not used accidentally) ourselves of the notion that commercial success and the American Dream are synonymous with faithful Christianity. They’re so not. They may even be the antithesis.

Notes from the Pastor’s Office (via azspot)

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In fact, Revelation supports Christian nonviolence more aggressively than any other biblical book. Nowhere does Revelation encourage the church to act violently. Human violence is always condemned, and suffering is exalted. Now, make no mistake: Jesus will return as Judge, and He will pour out His wrath. But the thought of a tatted, buffed out, commando Jesus hacking His enemies to pieces with sadistic pleasure is nowhere to be found in Revelation. Jesus receives authority to judge His enemies because He first suffers by their hands as a slaughtered Lamb.
In Revelation, victory belongs to victims and Lamb-like warriors conquer their enemies by being conquered. That’s the theme of this violent book.

Book of Revelation: Friend or Foe to Nonviolence (via azspot)

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I am an Episcopalian, which means I belong (for the time being) to the Anglican Communion, the world-wide association of churches that looks to the See of Canterbury in England and to the tradition of Christianity that started when the Romanised Britons who were already Christian converted the heathen Saxons and that became juridically independent at the Reformation, when the Pope gave Henry VIII an unacceptable answer about his marriage to Katherine of Aragon. Now, if you ask an Episcopalian or any other Anglican what’s the most important doctrine of the Church, chances are very, very good that the answer will be, “The Incarnation”.

The Incarnation, simply put, is the teaching that God became a human being in Jesus of Nazareth. All of the divine reality became humanly embodied in one particular person, a man, with parents and relations, living in a particular place and time, in a backwater occupied country under the boots of the biggest Empire west of India. Jesus was really God, but he was also really human–not just a deity wearing a temporary human suit, like Zeus in some of the Greek myths, but human all through. And also God.

The Incarnation means that Anglicans take being human seriously. We think human nature is basically good. We think human love (including sexual love), human work and creativity, human societies, human dignities (and that includes human rights or the lack thereof) are important, not just to humans but to God. They are precisely where God shows up in our lives. If you’ve read the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis, or any of Madeleine L’Engle’s books, you’ve got a good taste of how Anglicans think and what the Incarnation means for us.

The thing that I find myself thinking about every so often is Why? why the Incarnation? Why did God become a human being? What was that all about?

A lot of Christians would tell you that God became human in order to get us out of the mess we had caused by sin. Adam and Eve sinned, Cain screwed things up even worse, and eventually we bottomed out and Jesus was born, lived, did some preaching and healing for a couple years, and then “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. On the third day he rose again,” as the creeds say. Why did God became incarnate? Well, it was a fix for sin. If Adam and Eve had never screwed up, the Incarnation would not have been necessary. The gruesome and unjust judicial murder of Jesus the incarnate Lord would not have been necessary. We’d all still be living in the garden, eating fruits and nuts and not wearing clothes, or something.

A Protestant of the Evangelical variety, somebody off to the right of Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, etc., will probably tell you in great detail and with great vehemence that it was absolutely necessary for Jesus to undergo all the terrible and just punishments that we wretched sinful humans deserved at the hands of God, that he atoned for our sin by substituting for us in the sight of God. Jesus was our whipping boy; God had to punish somebody in order to satisfy his divine justice–if you can call that justice–so Jesus, who is also somehow God (Evangelicals are not real strong on the Incarnation), took that punishment instead of us.

Well, I don’t buy it.

That’s the Plan B Theory. The Incarnation is a fix for sin; it’s the divine back-up plan, the play he’ll run if the first play doesn’t get a touchdown (pardon the American sports metaphor). If we had all been good obedient little slaves in the garden, then none of that painful, messy (interesting, dramatic, awe-inspiring) Incarnational stuff would have been necessary.

Ever since I was a teenager, when I independently formulated the idea for myself without realizing I was not the first, I have held the Plan A Theory of the Incarnation. The Incarnation is why we’re all here; it’s why anything is here, why creation exists, let alone human beings. God creates everything so he can include human beings so he can become a human being. Humans can know God as one of us; God can know humans as we know one another; humans can become like God, as one of the early Church Fathers said (I can never remember if it was Irenaeus or Athanasius): “God became man that man might become God.”

It’s hinted at in the Scriptures, when one of the letters of Peter calls us “partakers in the divine nature”; in the theologies of the early Church, as I have just mentioned; in the Revelations of Julian of Norwich, where she says that human nature was first created for Christ, the Wisdom of God, the Second Person of the Trinity. It might even be mentioned in the Young Wizards series: “Those who serve the Powers/ themselves become the Powers.”. God becoming human was the plan all along. Sin made the Incarnation look different than it might have; sin meant that the appearance of Divine Love as a man among men was met by fear and hatred and eventually cruelty and violence, not wonder and joy and reciprocal love. But sin did not make God do something previously unplanned. God sharing life and being with his mortal, finite creatures was the plan all along, Plan A. Sin did not change that.

There is no room in my theology for a God who insists on punishment, who must have his pound of flesh, who cannot be appeased unless somebody suffers.  Divine love created us to be partners, beloveds, not slaves or even servants, and offered itself to us in complete vulnerability. We are the ones who punished, who executed, who tortured, who drew blood. That is what I will remember tomorrow, on Good Friday. Love came down and we condemned him, treated him like the prisoners at Abu Ghraib, and gave him a public execution. But Love had planned to dwell in the midst of us all along.

Here endeth the lesson.

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Hildegard starring Patricia Routledge

The Antinoan Doctor surprised me this morning with a post about an actress who became a nun in the only traditionally cloistered Benedictine women’s community in the United States. He had stumbled across a short documentary on her conversion engagingly entitled God Is The Bigger Elvis. At once I went looking for it on Amazon, and from there I segued to looking for another film I knew I had heard of about Hildegard of Bingen.

Amazon Instant Video did not fail me: I have just watched Hildegard, the 1994 film starring Patricia Routledge as the twelfth century’s most famous nun. Routledge is, of course, best known for playing Hyacinth Bucket (“It’s pronounced ‘Bouquet’!”), but she is as capable a dramatic actress as a comedienne; this is not Hyacinth-playing-Hildegard, but a solid and sober performance.

The film wisely concentrates on a few crucial moments and relationships in Hildegard’s life: Her friendship with the younger nun Ricardis; her conflict with the abbot of her community at Disibodenberg over the burial of a Crusader who may be excommunicate; her decision, supported by the nuns’ priest Volmar, to leave Disibodenberg and found an independent abbey at Bingen. Quotations from Scripture and from Hildegard’s profuse writings interweave with her justly famous music and tableaux of her visions to create a lovely taste of Hildegard’s personality, life, and work. I recommend it to anyone who is interested in her.

Despite no longer being a Christian, I remain deeply connected to a few saints and notables of the tradition who have meant a great deal to me. Julian of Norwich is foremost, but Hildegard is a close second, and I’d have to include the poet Dante and some of the English poets–Donne, Herbert, Hopkins–and Nicholas Ferrar, who founded the lay religious community at Little Gidding that inspired Eliot’s poem of that name. Hildegard, so very German in some ways, is also deeply Celtic; her Rhineland home had been evangelized by monks from Ireland and Scotland, and her persistent themes of nature and its goodness, the spiritual value of music and of the natural sciences, medicine and healing, and viriditas, literally “greenness”,  her metaphor for spiritual life and health (chi? prana? awen?) seem not only Celtic but Druidic (for Revival values of that word, at least). I am happy to discover I am still interested in her work and spirit.

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