Accidential clericalism

There’s a curious Unitarian Universalist practice where a good number of ministers use the writings of other Unitarian Universalist ministers “as a reading” for the pulpit, elevating to the defacto level of scripture. Much of what follows also applies to the endless references to popular writers and poets I heard used in Unitarian Universalist sermons.

I know the intent is to bring fresh ideas to the pulpit. I can appreciate that, if not adopt the practice. It seems to drastically compress the process by which ideas are tested as being normative for a group. Next, it allows preachers to cherry-pick agreeable ideas, leading to insularity. Last — and perhaps most pressing — it establishes the insider’s view and rewards prestige and power.

A funny conundrum, that. I’ll stick to the Bible.

June 19 preaching

A reminder to my Loyal Readers, I’ll be preaching at the Church of the Holy City (Swedenborgian) this Sunday. That’s 1611 16th St. NW, Washington, at 11:00 a.m. Metro to Dupont Circle north exit and walk four blocks, or take the S2 or S4 bus to Corcoran Street.

In the “more” I’ve put the texts I’m preaching (in the public domain World English Bible) and the psalm (Coverdale version) but that’s not necessarily the versions I’ll be using on the day.

I’ll be saying more about this sermon later this week. Call the blogging a quick kick in the rump to get me going.

Continue reading “June 19 preaching”

The Bible opens up

In my recent post Is the mainline church closed-source? I resigned myself to using the King James Version of the Bible. Last night, I installed more open-source software on my computer — I’m loving the Ubuntu Linux, but that’s another entry — and GnomeSword2 Bible Guide had a translation I had never heard of: the World English Bible, the WEB. (There are Sword Project versions for Macs and Windows.) It is a revision of the 1901 American Revised Edition: the “grandparent” of the New Revised Standard Version, or the “grandchild” of the King James Version, depending on how you look at it.

There are a couple of problems. First, it isn’t done so says, but I can’t find the Old Testament books that are missing, or perhaps the “missing” ones are just not done with editing. Christmas 2005 is the full-text rollout date. They hope.

What I’ve seen reads well, and would probably be good for public worship, but (1) it uses contractions in the New Testament to reflect the koine Greek, and (2) spells out the Tetragrammaton, that is, the name of God often mistranslated Jehovah. I’ll want to research how it make translation decisions more before I go hog-wild about it.

But it has to be better than what I would confect.

And if you were looking for other public domain goodies, see this page at Wikipedia. (And the World English Bible is there, too.)

Biblical Art museum opens in NYC

A while back, Hubby and I were in New York. After a lovely lunch with PeaceBang and two other friends, we walked south from the Upper West Side past the headquarters of the glass-fronted American Bible Society building. Since he indulged me the last time we were in the city, I didn’t ask to stop that time, but did note that they were expanding their exhibit gallery into the new Museum of Biblical Art, “[representing] a new model in American museology, one that emphasizes the original functions and meanings of objects growing out of the Christian and Jewish traditions.”

Looking again online I see it opened three days ago.

It even comes with a hip-ish acronym (or is it an abbreviation?) MoBiA. (And is that mo’bee-uh, or mobee’uh?)

It looks interesting, provided it is free as the former gallery was. (Coming from Washington, I like my museums free of charge. Plus, they’re rated very low for their financial efficiency as a charity.) The web page is little more than a conduit for press releases — and reads like one — but if you find yourself near Columbus Circle this might be more interesting than the shopping options.

Museum of Biblical Art

New toy, er, book

I got my newest eBay purchase in the mail today: The Christian Helper; or Gospel Sermons for Congregations and Families “issued by direction of the General Convention of Universalists” in 1858, and printed (of course) at 38 Cornhill, Boston.

This was “a Second Volume of Sermons for the use of Societies, without minister, of unorganized circles of Worshippers, and of Private Believers generally.” This was part of the Universalist missionary effort, and would have been used in worship (if used at all) with something like the Gospel Liturgy.

Here’s something I didn’t know about these resources: it is dated. There’s a sermon for every Sunday for the first half of 1858, and the sermons feature some top-flight preachers. The whole effort seems to have been compiled or supervised by “A. A. M.”, none other than Alonzo Ames Miner, Universalist minister and second president of Tufts.

I’ll have to find a good sermon and type it out for y’all.

The incomplete word and Israel

I will restore their fortunes, the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters and the fortunes of Samaria and her daughters, and I will restore your own fortunes along with theirs, in order that you may bear your disgrace and be ashamed of all that you have done, becoming a consolation to them. Ezekiel 16:53-54

Hubby and I lazed in bed this morning, the lures of congregational worship failing. I suppose it was bound to happen.

But I felt bad for not attending worship, or even attending to my morning and evening prayers. (But I shall still pray for all those I promised. Fear not.)

I went and looked at the lectionary readings for the Sunday. I have to confess disappointment with the two Old Testament selections, especially given the Christian history of treating Jews (and their canon of scripture) as inferior, especially in the moral sense.

The first option was from the first chapter of Hosea, where the prophet marries a prostitute and they have children with name of alientation and rejection. The second option is Abraham’s bargaining with God not to destroy Sodom and Gommorah. And we know how that one turned out.

Or do we? Turning to a prophet we find Sodom’s fortunes restored, and in the second chapter of Hosea we find his children’s alientation reversed. Each is a tonic to the kind of dualistic (and moralistic) thinking that bleeds into Christian faith as regularly as the tides.

Or, cutting to the chase, Christians have a vested interest in burying supercessionism (the belief that in Christ, the promises made by God to the Jews are void) and this thought comes from Karl Barth if not others: if God could break promises with the Jews, then why wouldn’t God break promises with the Christians?

Those on the left-hand side of things tend to avoid these questions with a ten-foot pole, leaving those on the right-hand side a lot of easy play, and with it unearned authority on matters of Israel: the people and the political state.

To bring us to today, I think our (US) Israel policy has been a disaster. It seems to breed the kind of resentment in ordinary Muslims that makes extremists when previously there were few. Israeli policy towards the Palestinians today recalls some of the most repressive political regimes of the last century, and as Americans we’re tied into defending them.

Liberals are easily cowed by facile charges of anti-Semitism. If we can address those vestiges of anti-Semitism in our worship and faith, perhaps we would have the resources, strength, and credibility to not confuse real anti-Seminitism with an easy ploy to divert our (American and Christian) attention from what we cannot defend.

"This beautiful creature must die!"

30 April. Extra links added to Wikipedia articles.

James asks:

What are your thoughts on the psalms of lament, particularly for their expression of faithful anger?

This evening, my partner Jonathan and I each had headphones on, attached to our own portable CD players, listening to Morrissey CDs. (He’s back on tour after several years.) We would break from time to time, and out of the liner notes, read the lyrics as poetry. As self-aware, post-ironic Gen-Xers, I suppose we can get away with this behavior. To the uninitied, these songs are gloomy, usually meandering, and sometimes self-pitying. (Of course, when I asked him for a copy of Meat Is Murder, Jonathan reminded me that that is The Smiths, and tonight we were only listening to Morrissey’s solo works. As you see from the title of this entry, I later got a copy myself.)

In any case, it is a lot of fun to read aloud the words of the artist one BBC announcer (pre-ironically?) dubbed “Mr. Cheerful.”

It put me to mind of Psalm 88 – the psalm-blogging evidently working on my mind in the same way that James must be thinking – which was by seminary exegesis project, and is often dubbed, “the saddest psalm in the psalter.” The last lines, in the Liturgical Psalter go:

I have been afflicted and wearied from my youth upward I am tossed high and low, I cease to be.
Your fierce anger has overwhelmed me and your terrors have put me to silence.
They surround me like a flood all the day long they close upon me from every side.
Friend and acquaintance you have put far from me and kept my companions from my sight.

I was wondering how the hitherto mentioned Mancunian, who has given the world a song like “Girlfriend in a Coma”, would sing this. Of course, he would, and we would listen.

That might be our first clue about the difficult psalms. They need a context, but public worship might not be the place. Indeed, I have a hard time thinking of where anything harder than Psalm 130 would be useful and Psalm 88 almost universally gets the boot from liturgical lectionaries. (Do note, Psalm 130, “Out of the depths I cried to you” gives us, in its Latin title, the title of Oscar Wilde’s plea from prison, De Profundis.)

Use might be made in pastoral counselling. I recall in my last conversation with a late aunt (who was then dying of cancer) her refuge in the psalms; though, in her (and my) case, it was Psalm 139, for solace and assurance. The difficult psalms may faithfully be approached in a psalter spirituality, by which I mean at root using the psalms to express language that the individual may not be personally ready for, or ready to generate. That will include anger.

But the purpose of the church, as we must accept, is not theraputic. Unreflective, uncareful, and (above all) unattended recourse to anger in the psalms is an open door to violence. God knows the Christian Church has been stirred to violence before, and it can happen again, particulary if we don’t pay attention to have we use our heritage. A good book on the subject is Erich Zenger’s A God of Vengence?: Understanding the Psalms of Divine Wrath. (Westminster/John Knox, 1996)

No, reading Morrissey aloud isn’t just for the fun of it. It serve a purpose: an emotional and spiritual valve if you will. (After all, it can’t be the Carpenters and Burt Bacharach every night.) Same goes for the psalms.

Gay Bible 101

I ordinarily hate partisan “why the Bible doesn’t hate gay people” material because it is either weak on scholarship, balance, or common sense, and these far too often tie up their conclusions with a big bow of defensiveness, or worse, ambivolence to the Bible.

But I found a resource of the “Gay Bible 101” genre that I like, online and free to boot. It is within one of those sites you’re not suppose to admit reading because of its occasional not-for-kids content. (More tacky than tawdry.)

Adults, take note of the well-entitled One More Article Explaining That the Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality at Adult Christianity.