Posts Tagged ‘Christendom’

Ritual and Renewal in Christendom

February 14, 2015

I was raised in the Catholic Church, and my wife was too. That was a long time ago.

During the 35 years of our marriage, we’ve been intimately connected to a group of Protestant Christian believers. Our group spends a lot of time reading the Bible and discussing the revelation, poetry, prophecy and history that is documented therein.

Our literate emphasis on the Bible, the printed Word of God, has not always been the main thrust of the Christian religion. Widespread reading of the Scriptures only came to the forefront in Christian life during the Protestant Reformation, which was led in the 1500’s by Martin Luther, John Calvin and many other outspoken reformers.

There’s a historical reason why the Reformation, and the Renaissance before it, happened when it did.

About a hundred years before Luther ignited the Protestant Reformation, Johannes Gutenberg’s invention and development of the printing press had begun forging new paths of communication. This new printing technology would greatly proliferate literacy, and the use of the printed word, for centuries to come. The expanded use of printed Scriptures fundamentally changed the Christian religion; it was similar, in a way, to the way digital media has profoundly altered communication during our times.

But before that 16th-century revolution in literate religion came (enabling Christians to sit around discussing the Bible), there was the centuries-old Practice of Religion, and a major part of that religion was Ritual.

Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection is plainly told, for all to see and read, in the four Gospels of the printed Word. We take this for granted in the 21st century, as we did in the last century when I was growing up.

My Catholic childhood practice of religion was absolutely defined by the Mass, which is a ritual that had originated in the events of Christ’s sacrifice, but was later morphed during 1900 years of time into a prescribed, elaborate ceremony. The original purpose of the Mass was to tell the story of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary, in Jerusalem. But as that Mass came down through the ages, the cognitive element (understanding what actually happened at Calvary) was draped (rather mysteriously in my young consciousness) in ceremonial robes, and spoken in a language–Latin–that I did not understand. And so the Mass became, for me and for millions of others, something else. It became a Ritual.

In my young soul, this produced reverence, and a kind of faith–not a faith of understanding, but of. . .ritual, and yes, belief.

I’m not rejecting ritual altogether. I believe it is a profound component of human community, and can be a pathway toward faithful worship. But my turning, in early adulthood, to (what is called Protestantism) the Scriptures, instead of the Catholic (or HighChurch) ceremonial practice, has been quite productive, and beneficial in how I have lived life.

When Pat and I visited Greece and Italy a few of weeks ago, I was enlightened about all this. It was a kind of epiphany.

In Athens, we saw:

OrthxBrite

I snapped the image in a Greek Orthodox church.

A week later in Rome, we saw:

GoldAltar

This image is from a Roman Catholic church.

These two pix cannot portray the meaning, nor the reverential profundity, of worship as it regularly is offered in Orthodox and Catholic churches of the Old World, and still today through the whole world. But they are a visual indicator of the cultural legacy, and the experiential intensity, that accompanies ceremonies in both major strains of Christendom. (Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic parted ways during the 11th century A.D.)

I will cast no judgement about the formal traditions of my Christian brothers and sisters whose faith is framed in the Old way of worship. I suppose what they are doing may reflect more perfectly what we will all be doing in heaven someday.

These reverential musings, which were recently initiated for me in Athens and Rome, have marvelously, perhaps Providentially, landed on this screen just now, for you to see. Now I will bring this ceremonial sojourn to a visual cadence with . . . one more picture I snapped; it expresses my feeling about our colorful Christian faith, which is visible to those who watch attentively, in the midst of a tragic, and dreary, world.

PiazNovnaColr

Glass half-Full

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Time for Jihad?

September 7, 2014

Jihad is not one of the five pillars upon which the faith of Islam is founded.

If we, the Christians of this world, are to morally oppose Muslim terrorists, we should not do it on a platform of condemning Islam as a whole. Such a judgment upon Mohammed’s people would be downright impracticable and unworkable. We may classify them as heretics; some of us may identify Mohammed as a false prophet.

But hey, the Muslims of the world are not going to go away on the basis of our opposing their extremist elements. In the last fourteen centuries millions of the Islamic faithful have followed the teachings of Mohammed, and millions of them still are following him through the Quran and hadith traditions.

And that is worth something, because it is reality. Islam represents a long-lived institutional presence in our world. Such longevity has earned the people of the Quran an historical legitimacy.

Mohammed founded his worldwide religion based on five religious disciplines, or “pillars,” as the Muslims call them: belief in one God, prayer five times a day, giving to the poor, fasting and spiritual discipline during Ramadan, and the hajj journey to Mecca.

Jihad is not one of the five pillars of Islamic faith.

World history proves that Islam is no fly-by-night cult; the opinions of mankind render it a legitimate force to be reckoned with.

On one hand, the “force” characteristic of Islamic expansion is the problem, and we need to deal with it. If Islam is a religion of the sword, which depends on forced conversion of people with whom it crosses paths , we do have a large fundamental problem with it.

On the other hand, if the coercion we presently see from ISIS and other murderous groups is not rooted in authentic Islam itself but rather in extremists’ distortion of that faith, we cannot reasonably classify all Muslims as jihadists.

So which is it? Which “hand” is it? I believe we need to give mainstream Muslims the benefit of the doubt, because we inhabit the same world they do. Blessed are the peacemakers. But the ISIS murderers–they are a different animal. They are the Nazis of our age.

We will soon have to deal with them in the same way our grandparents had to deal with the Nazis three quarters of a century ago. Because the world did not effectively oppose the rise of Hitler and his Nazi criminals in a timely way, their Third Reich thuggery corrupted the entire machinery of Germany’s government and military. Then it took the greatest generation of our Western civilization to put a stop to their fiercely organized bloodletting. But it was not easy. Millions gave their lives in the process of ridding the world of the Nazi pestilence.

This cannot be allowed to happen to the Islamic countries in our day and time. We must make peace with Islam, if that is possible. Blessed are the peacemakers.

Accordingly, we must insist that Muslim leaders clean house, and rid their ranks of those murderers who execute innocent men/women without rule of law and without justice.

This dire situation is nothing new. About ninety years ago, Adolf Hitler named his contention with the world “Mein Kamph,” which means “my struggle.” He spent the rest of his destructively misguided life trying to convince the German people that “his” struggle was the same as their struggle to become a great people. It wasn’t. As it later turned out, the German people had better things to do than fight the feuhrer’s maniacal battles for him. What a price the Germans and the world at large had to pay in time and precious lives, to learn that hard lesson.

Likewise, the Muslim faithful of our present world have better things to do–like governing their own people–than fighting the bloody battles laid out for them by ISIS, Al Nusra, Hamas, Hezbollah and others of their ilk.

Fourteen hundred years ago, Mohammed established his legacy among the Arabs by accepting the role of spiritual prophet. But he went further than that. He also took on political and military roles. Perhaps his taking on such forceful responsibilities, and their subsequent precedents after his death, is why the coercive power of the sword has become an oft-used weapon of Muslim hegemony.

This swordish attribute of Islamic power is not a religious tactic to which Christians readily acknowledge legitimacy. Except that: our own history of violence, forced persecution and war are, like it or not, an undeniable stain on the Christian heritage.

Even so, that was not Jesus’ precedent. All the subsequent killing, maiming, forced converting in the name of God under Christendom was what we did, not Jesus. Jesus’ ultimate purpose was to atone for those sins that infect every one of us, and to affirm his salvatory work through resurrection after crucifixion. There is no historical evidence that Jesus took up the sword.

As for Mohammed, he affirmed his work through writing the Quran, but also by taking up the sword in the interests of redistributing wealth and establishing justice among his Arab people. He did take up the lethal weapon of military power in order to accomplish that. The principles of Islam governance are human principles.

The principles of Christian resurrection, however, are advocated by a people who hope to transcend this world, and possibly transform it in the process. Because this world is at war with itself, always will be . . . until Christ returns.

You think me naive to write such a thing? Two thousand years of Christianity attest that I am not alone in this belief. As for you followers of Mohammed, may Allah be with you. We’ll see how far that gets you on judgment day.

Smoke

Dam infidels at it again

November 12, 2011

Wouldn’t you know it. The people of ancient Israel had a great little kingdom going, with the legendary King David establishing for them an impressive niche among the kingdoms of the earth, and then his venerable son Solomon consolidating their collective labor and wisdom into a golden age of excellence. But then Solomon died, and his sons Rehoboam and Jeroboam couldn’t work together, so Jeroboam took some rebels and they struck out on their own to establish a renegade kingdom of Israel at Samaria.
Those dam infidels.
Solomon’s golden age kingdom was eventually ground into dust by Assyrian and Babylonian conquerors. Jewish kingdom was extinguished, but their worship of Y_h, and identity as a people chosen to document God’s work, survived. After their banishment from Jerusalem, captivity in Bablyon,  and eventual return of  some Hebrew exiles to Jerusalem, the Jewish people managed to maintain a unique culture and precious heritage, in spite of later Greek hegemony and Roman domination. Almost a thousand years after Solomon, Messiah finally came, suffered Roman crucifixion, but then triumphed by rising from the dead. Jesus’ disciples, most notably the upstarts Peter and Paul, forsook Jewish tradition to start a new spiritual work on earth, which became Christianity and spread like wildfire through the Mediterranean world.
Those dam infidels.
After centuries of steady growth, suffering bloody persecutions from heathen Roman emperors, Christianity proliferated in spite of the bloody business of feeding them to the lions and such. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church, so we Christians like to say, although I’m not necessarily  volunteering for that role. But then 300 years after Christ, one noble emperor Constantine finally got the light bulb turned on his head and became a Christian. If you can’t kill them, join them, I guess. As lucid as he was, Constantine got the bright idea to require all Roman citizens to be Christians, thus merging the public function of governance with the private practice of worshipping a risen Saviour. It was an idea that looked good on tablets (not ipads though), but it later turned out to be a mistake, although the organizing strategy worked tolerably well for a millenium or so, until Europe-based Christendom ended up splitting in two–Roman Catholics and Greek Orthodox.
Those dam infidels again.
Meanwhile back in the mother lands, in 7th-century AD Palestine and Arabia, Mohammed got to looking around and realizing that mankind had a real problem. Even so-called righteous people such as Christians and Jews couldn’t seem to be good and properly serve God, and they had irrepressible reprehensible tendencies toward idolotry and debauchery. So Mohammed took it upon himself a la Allah to straighten the human race out by starting a new religion, which would prove to be more forceful and therefore more effective in its conquest of us unruly humans. So Mohammed and his subsequent imams set out to conquer the world for Allah.
Those dam infidels.
Mohammed and his band of believers did manage to compel a lot of people to their way of worshipping. However, after he died, the surviving leaders of Islam could not agree on who would be the successor, so there were bloody disagreements among them. After a few years, one faction’s acknowledged spiritual leader was recognized as legitimate imam to take up Mohammed’s authority. But by the time some Muslim agreement was reached, the other faction had already recognized three imams. Thus did the first Caliph of the Shi’a become known also as the fourth Caliph of the Sunni. These inceptive infightings resulted eventually in two major branches of Islam. Since the split happened quite early in Islamic history (about 656 AD, just 24 years after Mohammed’s death), the results produced two major branches of Islam–Sunni and Shi’a. This is not unlike the Christian Catholic/Orthodox legacy of two major dogmatic strains.
Those dam infidels again.
Fast forward a thousand years or so, and pan back to Europe, where we’ve got a a Protestant reformation brewing in the northern regions. Eventually Christendom manifests its inability to achieve consensus by morphing to a religion with hundreds, or thousands, of denominations.
Those dam infidels again, and again.
By and by, our perpetual trail of tears and blood gets dammed up into a global reservoir of apostate tragedy. Those dam infidels have been at each other’s throats for millenia. It gets discouraging, not to mention all the oriental religions–Hindu, Buddhist, Shinto, Zoroastrian, and God only knows how many.
An overview of history makes it appear that we humans will never agree on religion. We’ll be disputing about who God is and what he’s up to, or if he even exists,  until such time as we just blow ourselves to kingdom come.
I believe if God were really among us, he would take a real beating for this refusal to whip us into submission.

CR, with new novel, Smoke, in progress