“How God loves us through our bad theology”: A guest post

14051_10206246260419240_3924350429838097717_nCults are on my mind lately. For one thing, I’ve developed an addiction to the new Netflix series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. It’s a Tina Fey/Robert Carlock comedy about an Indiana woman who escapes a doomsday cult and remakes her life in New York City. Much wackiness ensues.

But also, and more seriously, one of my college friends recently shared a reflection on Facebook. Theresa related how she was “raised with antiquated theology in a pre-Vatican II cult,” and the term “cult” was no exaggeration. I thought her analysis of that experience, and what it means to her today, was remarkable.

Therefore, I am doing something unusual. I am hosting a guest post, and the guest post is Theresa’s reflection. I share it below, and use Theresa’s real name, with her express permission. Continue reading

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Studying theology, doing theology

St. Thomas Aquinas, theologian. Carlo Crivelli, 15th cent. Via Wikipedia.

St. Thomas Aquinas, theologian. Carlo Crivelli, 15th cent. Via Wikipedia.

Jorge Juan Rodriguez V, a graduate student at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, has a Dec. 24 article at Religion Dispatches entitled: “‘This is What Theology Looks Like’: Disrupting a Crucifying System.”

Rodriguez writes about the wave of national protest that has erupted following the police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Protesters seek to “disrupt a system which perpetually declares black and brown lives less than human—a system that thrives on Wall Street, in congress, in institutions of higher education, and even in churches.”

Marchers chant phrases like “Black lives matter,” “I can’t breathe,” and “Hands up, don’t shoot.” Faith leaders who have joined them often chant: “This is what theology looks like.” Rodriguez observes: “From Ferguson to New York City this phrase has been invoked.”  Continue reading

The continuing incarnation

009In the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad; the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome. The forty-second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus; the whole world being at peace, Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming, being conceived by the Holy Spirit, and nine months having passed since his conception, was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary. Today is the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh. –Kalends of Christmas Day, from the Mass at Midnight

It is hard to write about Advent or Christmas. It is hard to come up with something that has not already been said. What I am about to say has been said elsewhere and said better. But I will say it anyhow.

In Jesus, the Word does not only take flesh. The Word takes on a biography, a story with a thousand characters and details. It is the same litany of particulars that make me into Justin, or you into yourself.  Continue reading

“Pray, Listen, Discern”: Reflections after a vigil

Triptych from our Tuesday night vigil outside Chicago's Holy Name Cathedral. Photo via Facebook page of Call To Action.

Triptych from our Tuesday night vigil outside Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral. Photo via Facebook page of Call To Action.

On Tuesday evening, I gathered with a bunch of other folks to pray the rosary. We met on the wet, chilly sidewalk outside Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral.

The sky unloaded on us as we arrived. But the rain eased up, almost stopped, as we began the service. It is the kind of thing that happens when I pray in front of Holy Name.

The Human Rights Campaign and Call To Action co-sponsored our gathering. It was one of seven vigils scheduled during the Vatican’s Extraordinary Synod (Oct. 5-19) on “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.” The vigils call on the bishops to “Pray, Listen, Discern” with LGBT families.  Continue reading

Ways of the cross

Phos zoe cross. Via Gallery Byzantium.

Phos zoe cross. Via Gallery Byzantium.

Last Sunday, September 14, was the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Since then, I have considered the many kinds of crosses there are. I mean literal crosses, those you wear around your neck or affix to your wall.

Crosses can be streamlined and blank. For Protestants, this is generally the default. Originally, all Christian crosses were this way. Writes Thomas Cahill in Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus:

The early Christians, the original friends of Jesus, so sympathized with Jesus’ pain and had been so traumatized by it that they could not bring themselves to depict the stark reality of his suffering, except in words–that is, in the accounts of the four gospels, which are as clipped and precise as the four authors knew how to make them. Only in the fifth century, nearly a century after the Roman state had discontinued the practice of crucifixion and no one living had witnessed such a procedure, did Christians forget the shame and horror of the event sufficiently to begin to make pictures of it.

Of course, crosses also include those body-bearing crucifixes that are so familiar to us Catholics. But they need not be dead bodies. On some crosses, Jesus is not hanging in execution, but risen in glory.  Continue reading

“Dirty little secret”: Our Johannine church

P03-24-14_15.53We are in late Lent. The weekday Gospel readings are now all John, all the time.

And why not? We are bearing down on Holy Week, and John’s Jesus lives in a “Wanted” poster. They’re always trying to kill him, but can’t quite grab him; they seek to arrest him, but the hour hasn’t arrived. And so on. The liturgical point is that the hour will come.

I have a confession. I don’t much like John’s Jesus.

He has beautiful moments: “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25). Or: “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you” (15:12). Or: “I am the vine, you are the branches” (15:5). Or: “I pray…so that they may all be one” (17:20-21).

Or this one above all: “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?’ She thought it was the gardener and said to him, ‘Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’” (20:15-16).

But overall, John’s Jesus can be…well…tedious and arrogant. He expounds on his oneness with God. He demands that everybody and their grandma acknowledge it. He is disappointingly prone to context-free utterances about his exalted mission. At face value, he seems the type to stride into some random diner in some random part of town, shouting “Do you not know that I am he?!” when you just want to eat your pie and pay your bill. No wonder everybody had enough. Continue reading

“Cold-blooded mercy”

LentGraphicI recently attended Wednesday Lenten vespers at my dad’s church. Dad is not Catholic. He belongs to a conservative Lutheran denomination. I go with him sometimes.

Part of it is about attachment to my heritage. My family has been active in that church for well over a hundred years. Back then, Dad’s grandparents and great-grandparents were relatively fresh arrivals from Germany. The congregation still rented a room adjoining a tavern. They would request that beery patrons hush during services.

Part of my attachment is also aesthetic. I appreciate the arresting beauty of the old building: the wooden altarpiece with its elaborate spires; the stained glass windows, dating from around World War II, that display ships, shields, swords, and emblems of the four evangelists; the paintings of Jesus knocking on a door, of an angel whooshing down from Bethlehem’s inky night sky; the Corinthian columns touched up with gold leaf.

And part of it is about deliberate immersion. From time to time, I seek to be around worshipers who are not like me. While the visual environment and liturgy at Dad’s church are almost Catholic, my fluid, humanistic Catholicism is unorthodox and dangerous in that space.

There, to a degree I have never heard preached in any Catholic setting, you are a sinner. Grace does not build on nature. Grace replaces nature. In Adam, all stand condemned. You are hell-bound unless you believe in Jesus’ sacrifice. “We are not good,” one of the pastors once said, “any of us.”

Continue reading