Sunday, July 29, 2007

The iBible

It was only a matter of time...

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Life is a Sacrament

This past weekend I performed a funeral, a wedding, and a baptism, in that order. I love times like this because it allows me to be present with people in some of the most significant moments of their lives. I’ll be honest, though- it was a tad inconvenient because it ate up what was supposed to be a day off spent reading the final Harry Potter book, but ministry never has and never will go according to my schedule (nor should it).

When it became clear what a busy 24 hours I was going to have, Jessica remarked, “Wow, a trifecta of sacraments in one weekend!” This is not technically true because, as Protestants, we tend to be finicky about biblical precedent for things, and as such we recognize only baptism and the Lord’s Supper as sacraments because of their prominence in the life of Jesus. Our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters, on the other hand, recognize weddings and funerals (last rites) among their list of seven sacraments.

Her comment got me thinking, though. Perhaps we Protestants have missed something in our noble quest for biblical fidelity. Perhaps a more inclusive list of sacraments makes a broader statement about the very nature of life itself. Recognizing baptism, communion, confirmation, confession, marriage, ordination, and anointing of the sick/dying as sacramental and holy reminds us that there are holy moments throughout our lives. Indeed, it helps us see all of life as sacramental, not just a few specially set aside parts. What if we really viewed every part of our lives, both the “significant” parts and the ordinary parts, as holy and completely infused with the spirit of the living God?

It’s unfortunate that those of us in higher church traditions (Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox are all in the same boat here) have turned the sacraments into something that is reserved only for those of us who belong to the priestly class. We originally did this because we wanted everyone to understand them properly, of course, but what we ended up doing was creating a method by which we who wear fancy robes and have cool titles get to pretend we’re better than everyone else. “I can perform these things and you can’t because I’m special and you’re not.” This is the very thing which Jesus came to get rid of.

What if, just for a moment, we stopped our ecclesial chest thumping and considered the possibility that the reason the church has sacraments in the first place is to remind us that significant moments in our lives are not only important because we decide they are, but because they give us the opportunity to remember how God is fully present with us in all the moments of life? If we really believed this, then we might understand that sacraments are not merely another way to mark who’s in and who’s out, but as markers of the fact that Jesus has removed all barriers (most, if not all of our own making) to each of us experiencing the fullness of life with God. I think that looks a whole lot more like what Jesus wanted for us.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Respectfully Disagreeing with Benedict

The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which was headed up by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger until his election as Pope, has recently released a document with which I have to take issue. I know, a progressive American Methodist taking issue with Roman Catholic theology?

But I feel the need to comment on this one because of the extreme irony I see in the situation. The Congregation's document "clarifying" (reinterpreting) statements made by the Second Vatican Council states that churches outside of full communion with the Roman Catholic Church "cannot be called 'churches' in the proper sense" because we do not enjoy the full benefit of "apostolic succession in the sacrament of orders". Basically because I'm not ordained by a bishop that has been appointed by the Pope, I'm not a legitimate celebrant of the Eucharist.

(Here is the full text, and here is the short version, courtesy of CNN.)

I could play the proof-texting game here, throwing out verses like "wherever two or three are gathered in my name I am there" and whatnot. But someone could come back with "on this rock (Peter) I shall build my church", plus I don't believe in lobbing Bible verses back and forth. I could even question the legitimacy of true apostolic succession in the papal office because of the number of times there have been multiple claimants to the throne or how many times the office was achieved through simony. But I won't even do that because the ecclesiological practices in my own denomination are in need of great repair.

What I find ironic about this situation is that it represents the very thing that Jesus stood against: the hegemony and exclusivist practices of the religious establishment. Jesus broke Sabbath laws, reinterpreted Mosaic Law, taught without official authorization, and hung out with the unacceptable and "unclean" people to show that God's grace is available to everybody, regardless of whether the authority figures liked it or not. Grace is God's alone to give, and is not subject to the whims of any person wearing fancy robes- myself included.

What the Vatican is saying through this document is that ecclesial bodies who do not profess allegiance to Rome are at best second class citizens in the Kingdom, and at worst are totally left out, simply because they (we) do not choose to play by their rules. Jesus was executed because he flagrantly disregarded the rules of the system. We in the Protestant churches constantly fail to be truly Christlike communities, but perhaps in this one instance we find ourselves in very good company.