Lectionaries redux

MyIrony.com

Chutney gives me my first chance to test out the TrackBack, which itself was activated at Chutney’s general request to godbloggers.

I guess the appeal to a Unitarian Universalist lectionary jerks my chain in three distinct ways.

1. To quote a zillion TV law dramas, “it assumes facts not in evidence,” namely, a theological core. The Principles and Purposes have moved from being a census of competing factions within Unitarian Universalism to canonizing a self-selecting, materialistic atheist or wide theist, world religion-ism as Unitarian Universalism. No, you can guess, I don’t like that.

Why? Because this canonization puts an onus on those who have a particular theology, as if one is supposed to have a “theology in general.”

So I have a hard time with anything that gives that interpretation of Unitarian Universalism any more institutional heft.

2. The Revised Common Lectionary and its kin are attempts to unify Christians through a common approach to the word. Intended for a U.S. constituency, it has been wildly and widely adopted world wide. (It should be noted that two Unitarian Universalist ministers sit on the committee, the Consulation on Common Texts that devised the RCL.)

Anything particular and sectarian — the Scylla and Charybdis of Unitarian Universalism, but we’re not alone in its trap — just shows how out of the loop we are.

Why draw together a resource to prove it?

3. Of course, alternate lectionaries, liturgies, anything are marketed as sexy, hot, innovative.

Like parachute pants.

I’ll stick to the Revised Common Lectionary, and the Oremus lectionary off-Sundays.

But, even if such a UU lectionary was to come into being, I don’t think I would write off “Direct experiences of mystery and wonder” or conflate it with world religions.

Mystical experience is often at conflict with the same institutional manifestations of religion that produces the scriptures that those world religions would use. But mystics — I suppose out of compassion, or a need to reflect on the experience — do sometimes reduce their experiences to writing.

And then there’s the nature writing, which often points a sub-mystical experience of God, but is as direct as any experience. Many would be tempted to attribute this to “Spiritual teachings of earth-centered religions” but what if the writer is theologically elsewhere.

Indeed, the works of George deBenneville, who would have turned 300 last July 26, fits nicely here.

What did Micah mean?

Now that the Bishop-elect Robinson matter has been resolved, is it too much to consider an almost unrecognized matter that concerns a gay man, the will of God, the Episcopal Church, and the current General Convention?

Louie Crew, a well known gay advocate in the Episcopal Church, and a lay delegate from the diocese of Newark, has proposed an amendment to the catechism in their prayer-book, “to quote Micah 6:8 correctly.” He’s right in saying the current text, “to love justice, to do mercy, and to walk humbly with their God” is a bit thin.

He opines: “It is much easier to love justice than to do it. It is much easier to be merciful than to love mercy. We should set for ourselves the high standard that Micah articulates.” And so the amended catechism would read, if adopted, “do justice, to love mercy . . . .”

[The full text of the resolution.]

What do you think? And I wonder if it will pass? Or even be brought forward for consideration?

Trinity I: Roll call

Another adapted bit of writing to UUMA-CHAT, this time on the historic presence of Trinitarians within Universalism:

As early as 1830, you can read embarrassment that there are or might be Trinitarians in the Universalist ministerial college, presumably by those who don’t want any. Thomas Whittemore, as an appendix to his Modern History of Universalism (1830) footnotes a personal and unscientific survey he took of his colleagues on the question, and quotes the letters he received. They can be summed up, “Oh, I think there used to be a Trinitarian over there, but we’ve seem to have misplaced him.”

Since American Universalist has multiple origins, and since there is evidence of Trinitarian Universalist liturgy in common usage, it seems there has never been a time when such a position hasn’t had at least a few proponents. (Can anyone guess when the last Universalist denominationally-printed prayerbook with explicit Trinitarian references came out? 1941, with a special reprint in 1943. Hardly the depths of antiquity.)

A minority, sure. But perhaps one driven into rhetorical isolation for polemic goals.

The goal? First friendship and then consolidation with the Unitarians, of course, which was a hot-and-cold issue until it was consummated four decades back. Ann Lee Bressler (Universalist Movement in America, 1770-1880, which I’m glad to see is used at Meadville/Lombard) has a few nice pages about what happens to Universalist history when necessarily viewed through an Unitarian-irenic lens.

This helps explain why everyone gets so tied up about Hosea Ballou being “the first unitarian” — but how many of us can identify, with some detail, the workings of Ballou’s universalist theology at any significant juncture of his career? He was, after all, a Universalist, and not a second-string (or worse) Unitarian, despite those who remember him so.

Baptism I: Me or Us?

As I mentioned in the old “boy in the bands” blog, there’s been a little stir on UUMA-CHAT, but since that’s a confidential list for Unitarian Universalist ministers, I can’t go into detail. But I can share what I posted, with the understanding that any sense of urgency will be misplaced since you are reading this out of context. With that caveat, and with identifying information removed:

One of the reasons I put Blondie on my “Music to Meditate the Trinity By” list (on the [defunct] blog) was their hit, “Atomic.”

One of my biggest beefs (beeves?) with Unitarianism, both as a intradivine system and as an ecclesiological system is that is it consumed with atomistic thinking. Unitarianism, despite its covenantal basis (or perhaps, pretensions) is about “me,” and perhaps “you,” but rarely if ever about “us.” Perhaps, too, that’s why Unitarian historiography has for so long been captive to “great man” theory, or vice verse.

To prove the point: when was the last time you heard Principle 6, “The goal of world community” etc. lifted up?

Universalism is so much about the “us” (qua humanity, church, whatever) that it doesn’t even matter if you’re a Christian for salvation. Universalists are team-players. Christians have remembered Jesus’ high-priestly prayer, “that [we] might be one.” One of the realizations I had that led me down my present theological path is that my beliefs are neither unique nor the center of the universe, epitomized in the phrase “Get over yourself Wells!” God isn’t beholden to me.

When someone is baptized, it isn’t as Presbyterian, Catholic, or Universalist, but as a Christian. (I do wonder and worry if there’s an unsaid fear that we UUs are just playing at religion, and that other people have the real thing, so it is better to stay away.) This is why persons from the various divisions of Christianity have often based their ecumenical work on a common baptism. That’s why it is worth leaning into ecumenical norms in baptism — and then bring the Unitarian or Universalist distinctives to the table.

Remembrance of sermons past

Later this month, a lay preacher will give one of my predecessor’s old sermons. Seth Rogers Brooks (d. 1987) was minister of the Universalist National Memorial Church from 1939 to 1979, and leaves quite a shadow. He was one of the leading voices against the 1961 Universalist and Unitarian consolidation, and this hasn’t helped his legacy.

In looking for a re-preachable sermon to pass along, I have found one, and perhaps two sermons addressing his opposition to consolidation. Since I’ve never seen this side of the UUA’s history addressed with primary source documents, I’ll try to get it (or them) scanned for the historical record.

2 Samuel 13:1-22

I was looking up the daily readings appointed in the Oremus Lectionary for today, and the first is 2 Samuel 13:1-22. I haven’t had a daily reading discipline for some time, and it never seems to last long. Perhaps this time . . . .

Is it a bad omen that this is the passage commonly known as the Rape of Tamar? In brief, Amnon, David’s son, lusts after his half-sister Tamar, and he tricks (by playing ill and demanding he serve him food) and then rapes her. Immediately thereafter, he rejects her, and distrought, she returns to her full-brother Absalom’s house.

Tamar put up struggle and a protest:

No, my brother, do not force me; for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do anything so vile! As for me, where could I carry my shame? And as for you, you would be one of the scoundrels in Israel (2 Sam 13:12-13a, NRSV)

The reader cannot help but feel horror with and for Tamar, and her story has become emblematic for women who have experienced and survived violent assault, especially sexual assault.

I am troubled that Tamar, who appears in this reading and speaks only once, is essentially flushed out of the picture once Absalom vindicates her by murdering Amnon (in tomorrow’s reading). But this is the Bible, and characters move through it faster than would-be stars in a casting director’s office.

But perhaps she does speak, figuratively, in this passage a second time. After she is put out of Amnon’s house, Tamar “put ashes on her head, and tore the long robe she was wearing [a sign of the virgin daughters of the king] and went away, crying aloud as she went.” (v. 19)

Today, we can understand her crying. But did the neighbors then?

I have to read Tamar’s act of mourning both as a psalm of lament to God, and a cry for justice to other people, in this case her family. And was she willing to be exposed to a double portion of shame — both private and public — so that she might overcome it? Of course, an answer would be speculation and probably projection. But knowing that women are and were raped, and that persons in general are attacked and violated every moment, I have to give the biblical compliers come credit for not burying this episode “for her sake,” or worse, for Amnon’s.

I am slightly — just slightly — disappointed that this passage is not included in the Revised Common Lectionary, the ecumenical “reading list” for Sunday worship used in a large number of Protestant churches worldwide. But from a pastoral perspective, I would not want to teach from this text in the pulpit, where the emotional distance to the pew might isolate and re-traumatize members of the congregation, and, rather than illiciting a healing response, stifle it. But Tamar’s story needs to be told.

And it needs to be told as far as the end of the next chapter of 2 Samuel, for “there were born to Absalom three sons, and one daughter whose name was Tamar; she was a beautiful woman.” A halting, partial vindication of the elder Tamar, for the shame, as all in that household must have confessed, was not her’s.

Heartbreak at a lost church

I cannot approve of what seems to be a last-minute derailment tactic by conservative Episcopalians in the nomination of Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire.

And I also cannot pretend that the conservatives are not faithful people, and, if this vote passes, they will personally lose something.

Consider this excerpt from a presentation by a lay member of the Fort Worth diocese delegation, widely accepted as one of the most conservative places on the Episcopalian landscape, found in full here [dead link]:

I am a lifelong Episcopalian. I love this Church. But my Church is drifting away, and I am afraid that I am going to lose it forever.

I came to the Episcopal Church as a little girl. I walked down to our little neighborhood church and entered an amazing place of beauty and reverence. You could say that I have had the Episcopal Church in my blood since I can remember. . . .

But now, it’s our Church that is drifting away. If you vote to confirm Gene Robinson, I cannot go with you.

Compare that with any number of “if the UUA accepts God, I’m leaving” posts at the “Reclaiming a Vocabulary of Reverence Within Unitarian Universalism” discussion forum.

In each case, the individual needs and assumptions of the remontrant are treated as objective realities in need of a well-orchestrated defense, even though the Episcopalians, Unitarians, and Universalists each have histories and experiences broad enough to muster people who would have diametrically opposite experiences. I can repect the feelings of the Fort Worth delegate, and even those UU Humanists, but not enough to adopt the status quo.

Like it or not, in this kind of denomination-tearing fight, there usually are winners and losers, and, no, I don’t like it. Some action must be taken, even if it is only the action of recognition.

Unitarian and Universalist Christians have, until fairly recently, had to live with a continuing series of losses with the implied message that, as the “old guard,” we would have a diminishing stake within Unitarian Universalism. The assumption, both within and without the Christian cohort, is that eventually the “grandfathered” Christians would die out: terrible news from the inside, and one (apparently) blithfully ignored from the outside. I am no longer amazed that there are people who deny the existence of those who are both Christian and Universalist or Unitarian, or both. But neither will I accept this dismissive behavior, and that’s one of the reasons I write.

But not all was lost. Something happened in the Nineties — a change of leadership and generation, yes, but more accurately a change of attitude — that gave the Christian cohort a new sense of confidence and less of the defensiveness that had marked times past. We acted like God had an active plan and future for us, and, indeed, I believe God does.

Now it is the Humanist cohort that seems pained at a future of loss and (dare I say it?) dismission. But it seems to be that the Christian response is not to lord over the grief, and say “you had it coming” but be present and more than a little understanding. After all, we’ve been there, and there no guarantee we won’t know those feelings again. (If not institutionally, then certainly personally.)

Today, I hope the fighting factions of Episcopalians will experience enough grace to continue as one church, whatever the outcome of the Robinson election. After all, the world is watching and asking if there are Christians in that Convention. There are times I wonder if there are Christians anywhere: those living in knowledge of their redemption, identified by grace, and hopeful for unity with one another, the compass of creation, and with God.

Let there be peace in Minneapolis, and, I pray, next year in Long Beach.

A change of venue

Well, it took long enough but I was able to

(1) learn Movable Type, and

(2) get it loaded onto one of the hosts I have, but clearly not the one that supports uuchristian.org. (Lesson to self: keep all your websites hosted through one, convenient service.)

So welcome to all of those who have read “boy in the bands” before. There are a few things that need to be cleaned up, and I need to get my links finished.

And get enough entries to push the right-hand column over into the right-hand space.