Lawrence, deacon and martyr

St. Lawrence, martyred this day in 258, is one of my favorites from the early church. Of course, I first learned of him from the two-degrees-removed association that is St. Lawrence University, the former Universalist college (and seminary.)

Much of what we know of him is legendary. Suffice it to say that he was in charge of the church’s treasury, which the civil authorities demanded. Lawrence assembled poor Christians and presented them, “These are the treasures of the church.”

Yes, that’s enough to get you martyred. First he was beaten, and then (I hope the story is an act of pious fiction) he was roasted alive on a gridiron, with his famous “turn me over; I’m done on this side” quip.

When I was in Rome in June, I took these pictures.

martyrdom sitecloisterstatue

Left to right: (1) the traditional site of his martyrdom, in the Roman Forum; (2) the lovely cloister of the Basilica of San Lorenzo fuori le Mura, my favorite of the patriarchal basilicas, St. Peter’s included; (3) a statue of the saint (with his gridiron) atop a column, outside the basilica.

You can see a 360 degree image of the interior of the basilica, constructed over the catacombs where his remains were taken, here.

Not lectionary, but calendar?

Chutney makes clear what Chutney (I’d use a pronoun, but I don’t know what gender the writer is) is missing, and that doesn’t jerk my chain so much.

If I were making a thematic calendar with readings — with an overlay “sanctorial” calendar of the “saints” and major anniversaries — I’d start with the procession of the seasons.

After all, the Christian calendar is based on the Jewish calendar, and it has agricultural roots. Seems a good place to start, and then attribute values to the seasons. Values which speak to the particular congregation, if not the UUA in general.

And if a person was going to start compling useful liturgical material, why not go to the prayers of James Martineau? He understood the seasons better than most.

Lectionaries redux

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.