November 7, 2012
I saw a hand-painted political road sign this morning– all caps, no punctuation, black lettering on a white-painted square of plywood: SAVE US A VOTE MITT. I briefly wondered if Mitt were somehow hogging all the votes, before realizing that the message was: Save USA– Vote Mitt.
Any use of the word “save” in the political arena arouses my suspicion, and reminds me of the times in Biblical history when the people of Israel cried out for a leader (divinely ordained) to “save” them. Didn’t work then, won’t work today. The story that unfolds in the Christian Bible is a story of the ultimate triumph of a power different from political power– the power of self-emptying generosity and grace, which appears to this world to be weakness and foolishness.
The Biblical account also reminds us that the saving of the USA will come in the most surprising and astonishing ways– in ways that flip our expectations and change our minds beyond any change we think is possible. As unlikely as it seems, saving the USA might come in the contemporary equivalent of a figure who is sold into slavery and then forgives the sellers (Joseph); of a figure who is not a lawyer or businessman but a poet and musician (David); or of a figure whose serpent-like wisdom confronts hypocrisy with truth, and whose childlike innocence heals enmity and brokenness (Jesus).
April 16, 2011
Christ Carrying the Cross by Giovanni Bellini-- 16th-century Italian
This oil on wood painting by a follower of Bellini was one of Isabella Stewart Gardner’s favorites; you can see it today at the Gardner Museum in Boston. It’s an apt image to start Holy Week. I thank my wife Eleanor for bringing it to my attention.
For some who hold onto Christ primarily to confirm their already-held beliefs about the world– I wish that Jesus would be more of a stumbling block to them; more of a goad to examine their unexamined assumptions about life; more disturbing of their already-held beliefs. For others who reject Christ because, well, who has time for fairy tales?– I wish that Jesus would be less of a stumbling block to them. I wish that he would simply come and make himself known, through the strange heart-warmth, and the peace beyond words, that mark his presence.
I’ve been down both roads, and will be down both roads again, sometime or another. Faith is not a steady-state system. The authentic journey has many seasons, each with its gifts and dangers.
Our culture would do well to turn for a moment from its fevered ways to gaze on Christ– not because he is a pattern of virtue that we ought to assimilate (which makes Jesus just another commodity in the marketplace), but because he is beautiful.
Grace is in the direction of beauty. The proper response to beauty is to behold, rather than to grasp or to own. We would be a healthier culture, in all ways, if we increased our capacity to behold– rather than devour– what is beautiful.
August 26, 2010
In previous posts I traced the strong version of the conservative argument against gay marriage, and also pointed to where the serious, conservative, theologically grounded argument for gay marriage needs to go. In this post, we’ll lift up one thoughtful reflection– on God, desire, humanity, and sexuality– that leads, at the very least, to the possibility that God’s nature as Creator and Source of Life can manifest in human sexuality in ways other than begetting children. The author of that reflection is Rowan Williams, the current Archbishop of Canterbury.
In a piece entitled “The Body’s Grace” (composed over a decade before becoming archbishop), Williams identifies God’s enlivening, life-affirming nature as present in human sexuality itself. He helps us see human sexual intimacy in terms of the grace of reciprocated desire and delight– a grace and a delight that are in the very image of the trinitarian God, whose nature is love-in-relationship. By that grace we learn to inhabit the fullness of the lives we have been given.
From this perspective, the moral goodness of a sexual relationship is not whether it is homosexual or heterosexual, but whether it is characterized by mutual nurture and care, surrender and vulnerability, and a faithfulness over time that can lead to delight, joy, and an enlarged sense of life. The essential nature of human sexuality is not procreation, but beholding and being beheld. This is not to divorce human sexuality from the divine life, but to ground it in a theology of grace wherein we receive the fullness of ourselves as a gift from another, and from an Other.
August 23, 2010
A January 2010 Newsweek article by Ted Olson makes what is entitled “the conservative case for gay marriage.” You can read his case here. His attempt is good, but he doesn’t go far enough. A truly conservative case for (that’s right, for) gay marriage is actually stronger than what Mr. Olson proffers.
He makes a two-pronged argument. First, since (as conservatives maintain) marriage is the foundation of a stable society, so all the more should marriage be extended to those people (homosexual couples) who want to be married. The more marriages, the better. Second, he identifies equality before the law as a bedrock American principle; marriage equality must inevitably follow.
As I pointed out in a recent post here, the deeper conservative argument on this question has to do with God’s nature as Creator, and humanity’s special relationship with that God. While nodding in that direction, Olson doesn’t go there.
What the conservative case for gay marriage needs to show, is that the union of two committed, loving, same-sexed humans has a place in the divine life: that there are ways to manifest the life of God in and through homosexual unions, and that those ways are life-producing and life-affirming, even if they don’t include begetting children. Rowan Williams, currently the Archbishop of Canterbury, reflects theologically on sexuality in a piece called “The Body’s Grace.” His reflections are directly relevant to a truly conservative case for gay marriage. We’ll look at “The Body’s Grace” next time.