It didn’t. It was a sad commentary on several fronts. If church is worth going to at all, it’s worth going for communion with God, for renewal, solace, and strength. It’s worth going for confession, repentance, and amendment of life. It’s worth going to learn and practice what fullness of life in abundance means, whatever one’s condition in life. In other words, it’s worth more than going a few times a year out of social obligation.
Children who grow up in church, yes, in church at the main service with the adults, absorb the rituals, customs, words and meanings as quickly as they learn colors, numbers, and their ABCs. And when they sit up front, they are entertained by all the drama, color, and movement going on in front of them. If they squirm, or make a few noises, so what? It’s better than sitting in the back staring at the backs of adults, hearing indecipherable noises coming from a loudspeaker.
Moreover, the man up front may well be a woman. The man who passes the basket may well be a child. Rather than little Billy asking why we “hafta come to church to talk to him?”, little Billy’s family would be in the habit of talking to him daily, with weekly worship at church in the community of others as a special gift. Indeed, little Billy might not be in the pew at all, but up near the altar helping the priest or pastor lead worship.
And that’s what I have to say about that!
I want to talk about Good Friday and Easter in terms that might appeal more to first responders than theologians, because the more theologianish one gets, the less understandable one is to anybody else.
Collisions! Have you ever witnessed a head on collision. They’re not pretty. Injury, often death, is unavoidable. Blood, body parts, car parts, they’re everywhere. Police, medics, fire trucks work to sort things out. Traffic is snarled. Lives are put on hold, bent in the wrong direction. For some, life never returns to normal. For them, the new normal is painfully abnormal. The world has changed forever, and they wonder how it could be that others don’t seem to notice. Meanwhile, for those who weren’t there, life goes on as usual.. There’s no disturbance in the ebb and flow of an ordinary day. It is as if nothing had happened.
Good Friday through Easter is a head on collision. Watching some of the t.v. offerings at this time of year, you can get the idea that Jesus, offering nothing but gentle goodness, was the innocent victim of secular and religious leaders, intent on his destruction. They wouldn’t, couldn’t recognize the reality of God’s loving presence among them. I don’t think that’s it at all. To the contrary, what we have is a high speed head on collision between God in Christ Jesus headed one way, and a convoy of ordinary sociopolitical power headed the other. The convoy, I submit, had little interest in Jesus’ religious insights and practices, and not the slightest idea of what was about to happen. It was simply engaged in the ordinary work of being socially and politically powerful in an unstable, potentially dangerous country. Jesus was an inconvenient obstacle that did not get out of the way in time. Jesus, on the other hand, could see it coming and new he was about to be crushed. And so it happened. And so he was.
Pronounced dead at the scene, with no real harm done to the convoy, it was time to move on to more important matters. We create a lot of drama around Jesus, buy my guess is the authorities really didn’t care that much. He was just another of the many religious babblers and rabble rousers that had come and gone. As for the rest of the country, unless they had some connection to Jesus, they didn’t know what happened, and didn’t care.
Christ’s resurrection is what turned that upside down. Emerging from the dead amidst the detritus of the wreck, revealed as the ultimate power in all creation, indeed the power of creation, is not what a carpenter turned trouble making preacher normally does. Yet, there he was, the Word of God made flesh revealed in all his glory but recognizable as the Jesus he had always been. If he had not been demolished, and there really was a wreck, what had been demolished? Anything? I’m reminded, oddly enough, of a scene from a tacky war movie, “Force 10 from Navarone,” in which an explosive charge set off inside an enemy held river dam does’n’t appear to have any effect. “Just wait,” says the expert. Cracks slowly appeared, then holes, then collapse. The metaphorical point is that in the waiting moments between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, it is the convoy of sociopolitical power that was demolished. Maybe not to outward appearances, but God is not bound by human appearances. It took a little time for the cracks, holes and collapse to become known. In another forty years Jerusalem was gone. Four centuries later Rome was gone. But Christ lives, and the kingdom of God is still at hand. It doesn’t always look like a total victory. Sociopolitical power is still around. It alway will be. It still acts as if God is irrelevant, or that it alone is God’s agency, or that it is God, but it is never able to endure. It’s always temporary. It’s always fragile, cracked, full of holes, and tottering toward collapse. It is the risen Christ and the kingdom of God that endures, and is always and everywhere at hand.
What about today? Does the Pax Americana world order appear to be toppling? How much danger are we in? Will our way of life collapse? Is there anything we can rely on, anything at all? What can we really believe in that won’t let us down? The answer is on the cross and at the open grave.
Heidegger, Harrison, and the art of Dianna Woolley: What do they have in common? It’s a stretch, but it all seemed to flow together for me the other night. I’ve read a little Heidegger. Can’t say I remember much of it, but as it is I have a philosopher friend at Walla Walla’s Whitman College who hosted a gathering of Heidegger scholars last week. To be polite, we attended the keynote lecture delivered by Prof. Robert Pogue Harrison (Stanford) who talked mostly about rivers and time; subjects of his recent writings. Contrary to the little I recall about Heidegger, Harrison was coherent, understandable, and humorous.
Rivers, he said (or at least I think he said), are a dynamic whole participating at once in their origins, endings, past, present, and future. They are, at the same time, a part of the springs that give them birth, and the seas into which they empty. They are part of both without having to leave one in order to become the other. They are part of each place through which they pass, not sequentially but simultaneously, never stopping yet always present. Taken further, they are local manifestations of the greater whole that is the hydrological cycle through which the oceans are the ultimate source of all rivers, and the ultimate receivers of their outflow. One can sit on a river bank watching its coming and going. One can speculate about not entering the same river twice. But the river has other ideas. Always present, always changing, It is all of it in every place at one time, past, present, and future. That resonates with me. Something profoundly theological can be made of it. Contrary to Heidegger, as I vaguely recall him, it’s a workable metaphor for the Triune God of our Christian faith. I’m not sure how much Heidegger Harrison intended, but now and then he attached a string or two back to him with a little Thoreau thrown in, who, I did not know, liked rivers more than he liked ponds, or so I was told.
On the way home I said to Dianna that it reminded me of her art. She’s a gifted artist and student of art, skilled in the crafts of realism, but whose heart is in the abstract. In recent years, much of what she has produced has been inspired by the waters surrounding islands, flowing in glacial fjords, and stretching to the ocean’s horizon. It might seem strange, living as we do in the high desert of the Inland Northwest, but we travel a lot, mostly to islands in the ocean. Following the once wild Columbia through the Wallula Gap, and down the Columbia Gorge that cuts through the Cascade Mountains, is our route to Portland, our takeoff point for islands and oceans. It’s only partially, temporarily tamed by locks and dams. A little farther on where the river meets the ocean at the Columbia Bar, it loses all pretense of civility, with many wrecks to prove it. Sort of like shaking off the constrictions of time and place. What does that have to do with Dianna’s work? Abstract art, at least her art, tends to shun civility for the untamed wildness of a river that can live in the fungibility of time and space, bound only tentatively by banks and levees. It captures something of water’s ability to participate in time and place beyond the limitations of linear daily experience. She captures watery moments, presenting them, as it were, in a collage or mosaic that is not confined to anything but the artist’s skill and imagination. No philosopher she, it did not surprise me that Harrison’s lecture spoke to her own sense of the power of water to bend time and place, although she wondered if he had watered down the impenetrable language of philosophy so she could understand it. He hadn’t.
So there you go. Who knew?