Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Whole Armor of God

Yes, you, too can own your very own Armor of God! I guess, though, that salvation isn't as protective for girls.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

2 Down, 2 to Go

My second comp, on Reformation Liturgies, was this morning. It went fairly well, and was a bit shorter at only 4 hours. I think I did pretty well on it, although it will be a few weeks before I hear. Thanks again to those who prayed for me—I appreciate it! My next ones will be October 6 and November 2.

Tomorrow, though, I'm going to clean house (I have books everywhere!) and not think of anything.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Abductive thinking & worship

One of the books which I read for my Eucharist comp was Graham Hughes' Worship as Meaning: A Liturgical Theology for Late Modernity. He examines the theories of the semiotician Charles Peirce and applies them to worship. I highly recommend it, even for those of you who hate semiotics or have never studied them—he explains Peirce's theories well, and the conclusions he draws regarding worship are thought-provoking, even if you might not agree with all of them (just try to ignore the fact that his sentences have an average of about 60 words in length).

Some of the themes Hughes establishes are especially interesting. First, he establishes that meaning is produced in the interaction between the sign producer and the interpretant. Regardless of the giver's understanding of meaning, the interpretant's understanding, based upon what understandings are available to him or her, will affect the meaning intended into a third meaning, one different from the producer and the interpretant's original ideas.

Second, Hughes spends some time discussing the notion that humans like to go to the edge of chaos. He notes people's proclivity to enjoy roller coasters, horror movies, extreme sports, etc. He then calls upon the designers of worship to make the worship service such an experience—bringing people to the edge of chaos in that they are approaching the holy God.

Third, Hughes draws upon Peirce's understandings of meaning production to say that abduction produces the most meaningful meanings, as opposed to induction or deduction. By abduction, he means that some information is given, but not enough to know for certain what is truly the meaning of a situation. Therefore, imagination is necessary to create meaning, since not enough information was given to induce or deduce the meaning. In a given situation, for this purpose a worship service, thousands of tiny signs lead the worshiper to create meaning based upon them, whether consciously or not.

So, we see that worship leaders should be mindful that the worshipers might interpret a bit differently the signs that are given in worship; that worshipers like to be brought to the edge of chaos; and that the best method of giving meaning is allowing for the imaginative, abductive process. What that indicates could be different in different places and situations, because meaning can only be produced based on the cultural situations which produce it (one critique of Hughes is that he seemingly leaves aside the work of the Holy Spirit, instead relying on human agents for meaning production).

However, can we rely on contemporary people to be abductive in their thinking? An examination of recent Hollywood movies seems to indicate not, yet, many forwardthinking churches are using movies to outreach to their congregations. The church which some of my family attends just had a couple of services in which they watched the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line—an enjoyable movie, but interesting to show in worship.

Amy and I watched 16 Blocks last night, and it seems fairly representative. No room was left for abductive thinking, in which every tiny plot detail was spelled out in excruciating detail. The entire plot was fairly obvious from about minute 15 of the 102-minute feature, but, the filmmakers felt it necessary to be doubly sure that everyone would be able to comprehend the straightforward, clich├ęd story. I would fault them for my boredom, but, going to movies in the theater makes me wonder about our moviegoing public.

In Lady in the Water, what had been explained fairly well, although not fully, was finally mostly spelled out in the last few minutes. Some was new information, but some of it had been left for our imagination—although with much guidance. However, what had seemed fairly obvious left the lady behind me gasping in shock. Further, when Amy and Amanda Drury saw The Devil Wears Prada, a movie with much less to reveal, one of their fellow moviegoers was left in shock at the revelation of another obvious plot detail that had finally been spelled out.

Other movies that leave much unexplained have been unpopular, such as Unbreakable, which apparently I and three people I'm friends with liked. However, too much left undone is unsatisfying to me, such as Winter Light, part of Ingmar Bergman's "faith" trilogy.

So, is the simplified spelling out of every detail, like in 16 Blocks, really all we can expect of people? If so, can we depend on the abductive reasoning of worshipers? And, what could we do to encourage abductive thinking? How can we bring people to the boundary with chaos?

Blingo is good

So, I've now won four times on Blingo—I've won twice, and my friends have won twice. It's really great—it searches Google, but when you search you're entered in a lottery to win prizes. And, if you use Firefox, you can integrate the search in your search bar. There's a helpful button on the right if you'd like to join as my Blingo friend. Then, if you win, I would win too! So far, I've gotten 2 movie tickets and 2 iTunes gift certificates. Try it out!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

1 Down, 3 to Go

My first comp is finished! I think the others will seem easier after spending 6 1/2 hours typing on Eucharist and Signification. After producing a 5600 word document, my brain is fried! But, it's good to have one done. I think I did pretty well, although not perfect on one question (about the development of early anaphoral families, their distinguishing characteristics, and modern liturgies that draw from them—it was a lot to remember!). So, thanks to those who were praying, and, you can pray for me next Thursday, too, when I have my Reformation comp.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

I am Zwingli

Well, according to this test I am. It's not great, but it was a good, short diversion from studying! Out of the 5 options, I guess that's probably whom I would most identify with, although I don't know about the percentages I just got. Besides, what did they mean by "mere symbol?"


You scored as Zwingli. You are Ulrich Zwingli. You believe that bread and wine are mere symbols of the absent Jesus. You believe in interpreting Scripture reasonably.

Zwingli

81%

Calvin

50%

Luther

25%

Catholic

13%

Unitarian

6%

Eucharistic theology
created with QuizFarm.com

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Eucharist: Symbol of Transformation

Next I'm going to examine Eucharist: Symbol of Transformation by William R. Crockett. Crockett has recently retired from the Vancouver School of Theology, where he was professor of systematic theology.

Crockett spends the first six chapters of his book addressing the changing understandings of the Eucharist throughout history. Rather than summarize his statements, I will later compile a narrative of this development based on several books. C. includes a whole chapter examining Luther and Zwingli, which will also be helpful for my next comp, Reformation Liturgies. He does show important theological points throughout his history, ones that should not be ignored—especially, his discussions of Augustine and of the epiklesis.

His final chapter, however, is the one in which C.'s ideas come through most clearly. He begins by noting that, as heirs of the Reformation, Protestants have come to see the proclamation of the Word as the normal, weekly event, rather than the celebration of the Eucharist. The Reformation liturgies placed a strong emphasis on teaching and exhortation because the reformers wished for the sacrament to be grounded in the word, not that they wished to abolish the sacrament. Soon after the Reformation, the Enlightenment caused sacramental and symbolic language to further be lost from the general consciousness.

C. discusses the idea of eucharistic sacrifice, a difficult issue for the heirs of the Reformation. Max Thurian is cited as regaining the centrality of anamnesis, while at the same time recovering the idea of sacrifice. The Eucharist is neither a repetition of the sacrifice of the cross, nor simply a mental recollection of the event. Through it, the sacrifice of the cross is made sacramentally present that we may participate in its redemptive reality. C. cites Regin Prenter, also, in noting that through this participation in Christ's sacrifice, we help to fulfill our duty to offer ourselves as a living, holy sacrifice.

C. then takes up the issue of the eucharistic presence of Christ, another challenging issue for all churches. He traces the development of the doctrine, noting that after Augustine, during the Middle Ages, the community lost its sense of itself as the body of Christ, and instead became a group of spectators viewing Christ as an object on the altar. This developed along with the loss of symbolic consciousness, signaled in the controversies of the 9th and 11th centuries. No longer was it understood that a symbol participates in and mediates the reality that it symbolizes. Without spending a great deal of time on the issue's modern interpretants, C. does address two Catholic theologians, namely, E. Schillebeeckx and P. Schoonenberg. Schillebeecks interpreteed the sacraments as the symbolic activity of the community of faith—they "are communal symbols that mediate a personal encounter between Christ and the Church." Schoonberg also saw the real presence in a personal manner. The presence of Christ is not in an object, but rather "the personal presence of Christ in his community" (234). They both stress that the presence of Christ cannot be isolated from his presence in proclamation and in community. His presence takes place at the level of symbolic activity. The reality that is offered by the sacramental signs is Christ himself; although, this does not necessarily imply a local presence of Christ within or any physical change of the elements.

C. moves on to discuss the symbolic, recapping what he discussed throughout the book as related to symbols. In the ancient world, symbols were vehicles that mediated to the community the meaning of life in society and in the cosmos—the symbol participated in the reality it represented, and, therefore, when the community participated in the symbol, it participated in that reality. The loss of this understanding has been a process in Western thought, and C. analyzes two categories of understanding arising from this process—the "symbolic-realist" tradition, seeing in symbols a true meaning; and the "sociological" tradition, seeing symbols as matters of function.

The "symbolic realists" see symbols with an integrity of their own that cannot be reduced. While symbols can express different meanings, they cannot be one without the other (the example of the Exodus as a declaration of the liberation of an oppressed people, and as a divine act of redemption is given). It is the holding together of different meanings that gives symbols their power. The symbolic-realists also see the abolishment of symbols and their replacement with concepts as leaving modern culture impoverished and lacking whole worlds of meaning—the loss of the symbol has dehumanized us. However, symbols must also be interpreted for their meaning to be effective.

The "sociological tradition" sees symbols similarly, but also takes into account such thinkers as Freud, Marx, Durkheim and Weber. Freud's symbolism was that of individualism (dreams, etc.), but this tradition also sees symbols as a reflection not of individual life history, but instead of the society in which we live. Marx saw this, and noted that symbols are not neutral conceptions, but rather serve a social function, which he called "ideology" (understanding that Marx' ideas arose in the Industrial Revolution and critiques of capitalism). Durkheim, further, saw a "social bond" that holds traditional societies together—their common symbol system. Baum, Mannheim and Bloch all point towards the idea of symbols creating a utopian ideal in society as well as performing an ideological role.

C. gives his own reflection on symbols based on some other theologians. He begins by noting, "...the role of the symbol is to disclose the transcendent or the sacred.... religious symbols do not disclose a world different from this world, but the transcendent dimension that is present in all ordinary human experience.... Christian symbolic activity...is not an escape into another sacral world, but the celebration of the divine presence in the whole of life with a veiw to its redemptive transformation" (248).

C. uses Langdon Gilkey to show three meanings of symbol in Christian theology:
  1. Every finite being is a symbol of transcendencee precisely as a finite creature.
  2. Symbols assist a group to become "aware of its own status as symbol (in the first sense), as existing in and through the power of the divine"
  3. The presence of the Divine in and through these symbols is communicated to the group over time through the symbols (in the Christian tradition, primarily through word and sacrament).
Through these ideas, C. shows that religious symbols not only serve to disclose transcendent meaning, but also provoke social transformation, the Eucharist in particular. In celebrating the Eucharist as looking towards the coming kingdom, we should be mindful of those who have insufficient bread through injustice, poverty, war, etc. It is this that C. spends the remainder of the book discussing—the idea that throughout the Old and New Testaments, meals or banquets were ideas of feasting with God, and, eschatologically thinking, we should seek to include all within this feast, therefore making advocacy for the poor a priority. The link between the eucharist and sacrifice gives Christians purpose to more deeply address the self-giving action of God that is celebrated, and in eating the elements signifying that we should seek the transformation of the whole world. "The material signs of bread and wine, offered and shared by the community, are signs of the transformation of the entire material creation" (262).

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Eucharist: Christ's Feast with the Church

Laurence Hull Stookey, professor at Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington, D.C., presents a different view in Eucharist: Christ's Feast with the Church, published in 1993. His book is very accessible, and would be appropriate for a wide variety of readers, from scholars to Sunday School attendees.

Writing from a Methodist perspective, Stookey calls for a restoration of prominence to the Lord's Supper within Protestantism. He asks whether the memorialization of the Last Supper, and therefore the solemnity of the cross, should be the focus of the Supper; or, rather, if it should not be a joyful celebration of Christ feasting with his church, even as the two on the way to Emmaus broke bread with him, and, in doing so, recognized his presence.

S. begins his discussion by calling for a more sacramental understanding of the church's life. He, like Schmemann, sees the renewing of all creation as one of the goals of the church, and, therefore, of its celebration of the eucharist. While protestants often seem frightened by "grace" language when related to sacraments, S. notes that "God's grace can be proclaimed through things such as the water of baptism and the bread and wine of the holy meal" (15, my emphasis. He discusses baptism more fully in his earlier work, Baptism: Christ's Act in the Church). He uses this fact to say that it is through this proclamation of God's grace that creation may be fulfilled, a fulfillment which for Christians began with the resurrection of Christ.

The Supper is seen as a covenant, which, by definition, makes demands upon the covenant makers (although S. does not reference Hebrews 8-9, the overtones are there). This covenant calls us to responsibility for our Christian walk, and from God is a covenant of justice and mercy. Christ is the central focus of the Eucharist, "a feast in which we, with the risen Lord, incarnate the hope we have of a righteous realm in which Christ's sacrificial love destroys barriers among human beings and between humanity and God. To this feast all are invited by God on equal terms" (22). It is, however, the feast of the ekklesia, not of the individual. It is not just that of the current church, but of the entire church, past and present.

S. moves on to discuss the history of eucharistic interpretation, beginning with Paul and moving through church history to the present day, noting that our unfortunate understanding after the Reformation is that the Eucharist is Christ's gift to deserving individuals.

He calls for a renewal of eucharistic theology in six main points (95-108):
  1. The Eucharist is to be seen above all as sacrament—God's gift to us.
  2. A necessary corollary is that the Eucharist is a reliable means of grace, yet is not grace itself.
  3. The Christ who is proclaimed through the Eucharist is the whole Christ, and the proclamation should embody the full saving work of the feast's Host.
  4. Inseparable from all this, and often also obscured, is the work of the Holy Spirit.
  5. Because the Eucharist is a meal of the church,embeddedd in any theology of the sacrament is an ecclesiology—assumptions about the nature of the church.
  6. Just as there is always an ecclesiology, recognized or not, so also always there is an eschatology—some assumptions about the goal and final outcome of things in the providence of God.
Here Stookey's pastoral spirit comes through, because he proceeds to give several suggestions as to the implementation of eucharistic reform. Further, his sixth chapter is a summary of what a eucharistic celebration would look like, and a discussion of its parts. In his final chapter, S. discusses the ways in which the church should seek to bring people to the Lord's Supper, from those members who are absent on the day of celebration, to members of different denominations, to the church's evangelical call of missions in the world. It is here that S. again notes a major purpose of the church—providing community for those who are its members. This purpose is assisted by the Eucharist, in which all who come are gathered as a community to this feast with Christ.

The Eucharist: Sacrament of the Kingdom

The first book I'm summarizing is The Eucharist: Sacrament of the Kingdom, by Alexander Schmemann. If you're unfamiliar with Schmemann, he was an former dean and professor of Liturgical Theology at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Seminary. He died in 1983 before he was really finish polishing this work, but the Russian version was published the following year and this English version in 1987.

Schmemann takes the Byzantine Liturgy and uses it as his basis for the outline of his book. He speaks against the "illustrative symbolism" readings of the various acts of the liturgy, instead focusing on the sacramentality of creation itself, and, therefore, noting that each section of the liturgy is essential for its work and understanding. He calls focus to Western scholasticism for much of the blame for the fragmentation of the rite into its separate parts, and calls on Orthodox theologians to resist the westernization that has become the normal mode of interpretation. He especially is troubled by the Western focus on the consecratory formula, noting that undue focus on just this part of the Liturgy leads to the understanding that it is the only meaningful point, rather than understanding the entire Liturgy as indivisible and important.

He shows the interrelationship between lex credendi (the rule of faith) and lex orandi (the rule of prayer or worship) throughout, noting in the first chapter that they should be inseparable as the early church understood them. It is an excellent volume to help in understanding Orthodox theology, since much of their ecclesiology is based on the Eucharist, and much of their theological stances are revealed by the Divine Liturgy (christology, atonement, missiology, eschatology, etc.).

However, The Eucharist is not applicable only to Orthodox readers—the meditations on each section of the liturgy draw on universal themes that Christians of all traditions would do well to consider. They are labeled "Sacrament of..." the Assembly, the Kingdom, Entrance, the Word, the Faithful, Offering, Unity, Anaphora, Thanksgiving, Remembrance, the Holy Spirit, and Communion. Without taking a detailed look at each chapter, broad themes prevail in this work.

The first would be that the Divine Liturgy should be taken as a whole, rather than divided into its parts. Although he analyzes and meditates on it by its divisions, he clearly relates each section to both previous and following sections in both ideas and actions.

The second would be that there is a strong relationship between the assembly (which begins both the liturgy and the book), the eucharist and the Church (meaning the whole Church, past, present and future). S. notes this on the first page of chapter 1, and this theme is carried throughout the book. A further relationship which comes through as the book progresses, is that these three also are relating to creation at large, as well—both the physical world and those who are not part of the Church. By viewing the entire world as sacramental (by which S. means that "the world was created and given to man for conversion of creaturely life into participation in divine life", p.34), he sees the Church, which itself is a sacrament, as seeking the renewal of all things, since sacraments, in his understanding, are both "cosmic and eschatological"—referring at the same time to the world as first created and to the fulfilled Kingdom of God.

Third, S. calls into question the symbolic interpretations of liturgical actions which had become prevalent in Orthodox churches. He does not deny that Orthodox worship is symbolic—instead, he denies what the word "symbol" is taken to mean. Rather than understanding "symbol" as the antithesis of reality, S. calls for the comprehension of "symbol" as reality. In lieu of than seeing these symbols as illustrations, which deprive them of their "inner necessity," he sees them as manifesting and communicating what is manifested. He notes that "the symbol does not so much 'resemble' the reality that it symbolizes as it participates in it, and therefore it is capable of communicating it in reality" (38, his emphasis). He goes on to say that while we understand symbols today as the "representation or sign of an absent reality," its more ancient understanding would be that "it is the manifestation and presence of the other reality—but precisely as other, which, under given circumstances, cannot be manifested and made present in any other way than as a symbol" (38). It is this symbolic awareness that allows S. to call into question the separated, illustrative interpretations of each moment of the Liturgy, and instead call for the Liturgy's unity into a participation in the Kingdom of God.

These three themes seem to be the most important to S., as they reoccur throughout this work. I highly recommend reading it, if you haven't; and, if you have, feel free to add to what I've noted here.