In November, 2002, I led three conversations about the issues raised in The Da VinciCode. Months earlier the cover caught my eye in a bookstore. Because I have a long fascination with Leonardo (he is never called Da Vinci), I bought to read as a diversion. I found nothing new there but it was a good page-turner. Then an interesting phenomenon arose. People old and young, male and female began to ask my opinion of the Code particularly could it be true that Jesus and Mary of Magdala were married and perhaps even had a child. These questions continued through the summer with such frequency that I realized that this book provided a teachable moment. I prepared to have a conversation about the book with interested members of the congregation I serve. A press release was sent to the newspaper and they wanted an interview. The publicity produced six hundred attendees at the first gathering. Toward the end of that first meeting a woman stood up and said, “We are here tonight because we are searching.”
What about the novel by Dan Brown brought so many people into church for a conversation? When questioned by a reporter about why I thought so many people were reading this book, I replied, “It is filled with delicious Christian heresies.” We are talking junk food for the soul, good tasting but of dubious nutritional value. Did Jesus marry Mary from Magdala and have genetic descendents? The Last Temptation of Christ, another novel, considers that marrying his girl Mary, having children and growing old as an ordinary human being was indeed the last and perhaps most pernicious temptation Jesus faced. There is no compelling evidence that Jesus married at all. But people are asking, “what am I to believe and why?” That is a very valid and enduring question.
The church teaches that Jesus is fully human and fully god. I believe that he is? That is an act of faith for me but increasingly I suspect that it is true because it is not the easy way out. Humanity likes the quick fix, the black or white option – clear cut and simple. Heresy, from the word, “to choose”, is the tendency to choose a part of a notion and carry it to a logical conclusion thereby ignoring the complexity and richness of the fuller reality. As Northrop Frye writes in his book entitled, Anatomy of Criticism, “…the full metaphorical statement “Christ is God and Man” is orthodox, and the Arian and Docetic statements in terms of simile or likeness (are) condemned as heretical.” The heresy is to not be willing to live with the tension of the paradox, but rather to want reality easily understandable.
The Da Vinci Code introduces many people to the fact that there were many weeds in the early garden of Christianity. There are many reasons that they didn’t become the dominant form of Christianity. In some cases they couldn’t compete in the marketplace of ideas and in others they were eradicated by the political power of the state allied with the church. The church has not always covered itself in glory by mercy and justice.
All that notwithstanding I think the principle reason that classical Christianity endures to the present is the fact that the easy way was not the way chosen. The fact that the church chose the way of paradox and ambiguity as the most authentic way to live in the mystery of God revealed in Christ is the most telling reason for the enduring power of its life and message. That is how I explain six hundred people showing up on a Wednesday night to talk about a novel.
“Look, there’s a lot of reasons why I hate myself — being Jewish isn’t one of them,” Stewart told the reporter. “So when someone starts throwing that around, or throwing around you’re pro-terrorist, it’s more just disappointing than anything else. I’ve made a living for 16 years criticizing certain policies that I think are not good for America. That doesn’t make me anti-American. And if I do the same with Israel, that doesn’t make me anti-Israel.
You can’t outsmart dogma!
If there is something constructive in what they’re saying, hopefully I’m still open enough … to take it in and let it further inform my position. But I’m pretty impermeable to yelling. As soon as they go to, ‘Your real name is Leibowitz!’ that’s when I change the channel.”
— Josh Marshall (via Talking Points Memo)
This is the overwhelming issue facing any thinking person (mental activity is not proof of thinking). How do you deal with the “dogma” of others without resorting to ideological dogma yourself?” i ask myself that question daily (several times most days). Here my best hope lies in what my teacher Ed Friedman (Rabbi by the way) taught many through Family Systems (Bowen) Theory. The best contribution a thinking person can do is focus on their own their own functioning, working to maintain a “non-anxious presence” in the face of the dogma of chronic anxiety. How to “do” the non-anxious presence gig?
Begin by reading and inwardly digesting Richard Rohr’s teaching on Non-dual thinking. It can be found on his website https://cac.org/ More about non-dual thinking soon.
NOTE: I looked back through old posts today and found this one from 2007 and it speaks to 2014. As we press forward in the RenewalWorks process the discipline of holding the course and choosing passion keeps the fun going. Hang on for the ride.
I was going through my collection of periodicals this week and came across this quote in an article in the December 2001 issue of Fast Company a smart business magazine. Seth Godwin in the special issue on leadership after 9/11 said,
“If our faith in our system goes away, our passion disappears as well.”
That had resonance and my mind immediately applied it to the Church (as my mind does everything) and I realized that if I allow myself to get too caught up in the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’’ – to borrow a phrase – my passion disappears. Yep, that’s true and if it is true for me I suspect it is true for at least half of the Episcopal Church. That being said, I refuse to allow myself to be terminally distracted, choosing to continue in faith the way that I have begun. And so have the people of Saint John’s Parish.
The case with most men is that they go out into life with one or another accidental characteristic of personality of which they say: Well, this is the way I am. I cannot do otherwise. Then the world gets to work on them and thus the majority of men are ground into conformity. In each generation a small part cling to their “I cannot do otherwise” and lose their minds. Finally there are a very few in each generation who in spite of all life’s terrors cling with more and more inwardness to this “I cannot do otherwise”. They are the geniuses. Their “I cannot do otherwise” is an infinite thought, for if one were to cling firmly to a finite thought, he would lose his mind.
There ain’t no God — and that’s the glorious truth. Spectator Blogs It is sad to say, but this piece would not be published in the US? That fact makes me long for the old country. In this great Republic, I’m sad to say, there are largely only fundamentalist atheists who like their Christian counterparts have no sense of humor nor irony. The story of the man’s watch is funny. Regardless of your point of view. Give me a self-deprecating atheist any day over a self-congratulatory Christian. JWS
When you sit in a nail/hair/etc. business and discuss the failings/sins/mistakes of teens and college age kids in the area – just know that the lady sitting next to you hearing all of your nasty comments/judgements may actually know some of those kids – and may love them – and if you make your living photographing all of the kids sports events, dances, etc. locally – you should really zip it – and probably shouldn’t be wearing your “Young Life” tee shirt either