Few arguments are as engaging as humour; perhaps you’ve already seen Maggi Dawn’s top ten reasons why men shouldn’t be ordained. Of course, as an anabaptist, I don’t think anyone should be ordained.
There’s a delightful scene in Thomas Hardy’s nineteenth century novel, Far from the madding crowd, the funniest one in the entire novel, where some of the farm workers sitting in the pub get to discussing religion, just as Joseph Poorgrass is meant to be delivering Fanny’s coffin to the cemetery. The ‘chapel-goers’ they talk about are perhaps Methodists or Baptists; I need to look up the language.
“But I’ve never changed a single doctrine: I’ve stuck like a plaster to the old faith I was born in. Yes; there’s this to be said for the Church, a man can belong to the Church and bide in his cheerful old inn, and never trouble or worry his mind about doctrines at all. But to be a meetinger, you must go to chapel in all winds and weathers, and make yerself as frantic as a skit. Not but that chapel members be clever chaps enough in their way. They can lift up beautiful prayers out of their own heads, all about their families and shipwrecks in the newspaper.”
“They can – they can,” said Mark Clark, with corroborative feeling;”but we Churchmen, you see, must have it all printed aforehand, or, dang it all, we should no more know what to say to a great gaffer
like the Lord than babes unborn.”
“Chapelfolk be more hand-in-glove with them above than we,” said Joseph, thoughtfully.
“Yes,” said Coggan. “We know very well that if anybody do go to heaven, they will. They’ve worked hard for it, and they deserve to have it, such as ’tis. I bain’t such a fool as to pretend that we who stick to the Church have the same chance as they, because we know we have not. But I hate a feller who’ll change his old ancient doctrines for the sake of getting to heaven. I’d as soon turn king’s-evidence for the few pounds you get. Why, neighbours, when every one of my taties were frosted, our Parson Thirdly were the man who gave me a sack for seed, though he hardly had one for his own use, and no money to buy ’em. If it hadn’t been for him, I shouldn’t hae had a tatie to put in my garden. D’ye think I’d turn after that? No, I’ll stick to my side; and if we be in the wrong, so be it: I’ll fall with the fallen!”
In my journey out of fundamentalism over the last ten years, I started off being angry at it. I wanted to argue with every fundamentalist, to show them why they were wrong. Then I went through a period of morbid fascination and I started scrapbooks of outlandish examples of fundamentalist literature (pamphlets, tracts, posters) that I called ‘Volume 1: Live footage from hell’ and ‘Volume 2: Tribulation squad’.
In recent years, I’ve just left fundamentalism alone. Most fundamentalists are nice people, and I’m unlikely to help them much by telling them they’re wrong. (And so many mix some fundamentalist beliefs with lots of non-fundamentalist ones.) But still, sometimes something comes along that recaptures my old fascination – like this tract I found called ‘If you have been left behind’.
Long before the insipid novels, this was the real deal. It’s scarier than the novels, because it is published in all seriousness as a guide to the unbelievers who are left behind when the rapture happens.
It may be that this message will sit on many a book-shelf, until perplexed and grief-stricken people come across it. Some may remember the title, and search it out.
It’s a spooky thought, this tract published to be read when the world is in turmoil. Later on, we read:
My reader, if you have been left behind, and realize the Great Tribulation has begun, DON’T TAKE YOUR OWN LIFE, whatever you do!
The tract carries on with helpful advice about the sort of things the reader will discover as they face the seven years of tribulation. It’s written sincerely, with the best of intentions.
Fundamentalism makes me feel bad about being a Christian sometimes, and I think it will continue to fascinate me and repel me at the same time.
In Christian Century magazine, I came across an extract from Kathleen Norris’s new book, Acedia and me : a marriage, monks and a writer’s life. I had to look up acedia. It means spiritual sloth.
Her take on acedia is that it is a failure to find meaning in the ordinary, repetitious daily tasks and experiences of life. I identify so strongly with this. In my new novel, House of Zealots, one of the characters struggles against the feeling that eating, sitting, talking, gardening, washing up do not drive the revolution forward, and all that matters is changing the world. (It’s an exaggerated form of my own diseased thinking.)
I was a bratty kid who didn’t want to make her bed.
“Why bother?” I would ask my mother in a witheringly superior tone. “I’ll just have to unmake it again at night.” To me, the act was stupid repetition; to my mother, it was a meaningful expression of hospitality to oneself, and a humble acknowledgement of our creaturely need to make and remake our daily environments. “You will feel better,” she said, “if you come home to an orderly room.” She was far wiser than I, but I didn’t comprehend that for many years.
I have now made my bed two days in a row. And I intend to follow this through, this symptom of a deeper malaise.
I.H. Marshall’s article ‘Mutual love and submission in marriage: Colossians 3:18-19 and Ephesians 5:21-23’ appears in the excellent collection Discovering biblical equality : complementarity without hierarchy (Apollos: 2004). His article is a good argument for why these passages do not call for male headship today.
Col. 3:18-19: ‘Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.’
Eph. 5:21-23: ‘Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.’
Marshall’s argument is that Paul speaks to a world where patriarchy is the norm and urges Christians to transform this by practicising a ‘love-patriarchy’. But this isn’t the final step of the way in the Christian trajectory. The story of new creation that the Bible tells us is moving toward Galatians 3:28 where there is ‘no longer male or female’. Paul was transforming the norms of his day. If he was speaking to us today, he would not be calling us backward from marriages of equality to love-patriarchy. Instead, he would be extending submission and sacrificial love to both partners.
Does Paul’s teaching not only require that people fulfill the requirements of the social structures they find themselves but also mandate the structures themselves? Or does Scripture itself lead us to adapt different structures from those prevalent in the first century – just as we have seen to be the case with children, slavery and government? (195)
Some of Marshall’s important arguments are:
- It’s a mistake to think we can simply transfer any of the instructions to social groups from the Bible to our own day. In the same passage, children + parents and slaves + masters are addressed in ways that aren’t appropriate to today’s society. ‘Obey your masters’ is not an answer to today’s employment relationships. There was a significant shift in the status of workers not spelled out in the New Testament, as much as the seeds are in it by giving dignity to everyone in the body of Christ.
- The average age gap between husband and wives would have been twelve to fifteen years, which changes the picture.
- Marshall only mentions this in passing, but it is likely that a constant pastoral problem was women enjoying their new freedom and status in Christ by asserting themselves in a way offensive to outsiders. Paul’s instruction for them to submit is likely to be a pastoral strategy to prevent the gospel being brought into disrepute. If we make an analogy to today’s world, it brings the gospel into disrepute to call for women to submit and not men. Paul might use the same principle to give the opposite instruction.
Also in the latest issue of On the Road, Chris Marshall reviews David Bentley Hart’s Doors of the Sea : where was God in the tsunami? I want to read this book because his account of evil and God’s sovereignty resonates me. Marshall finishes the review with this, a paragraph of comfort to me:
The book… is an impassioned protest against fellow believers who, out of acute anxiety to protect God’s sovereignty, are all-too ready to see the hand of God behind the horrors of human history and the disasters of the natural world. For Hart, the greatest, and indeed the only, comfort a Christian can find in the death of a child is the knowledge that in the tragedy one sees, not the face of God, but the face of God’s enemy, whose ultimate defeat is assured.
Some interesting things in the new issue of On the Road, the journal of the Anabaptist Association of Australia and New Zealand.
In a lengthy article, Mark Hurst explores the common threads of Anabaptism and New Monasticism. He quotes at length from Schlabach’s essay “The vow of stability : a premodern way through a hypermodern world”. The quote is a challenge to my life:
Benedict’s rule requires a “vow of stability” – the uniquely Benedictine commitment to live in a particular monastic community for life. At first, this may seem to apply least of all amid our way of life. Yet precisely because it contrasts so sharply with the fragility of most commitments in our hypermodern society, the Benedictine vow of stability may speak more directly to our age than anything else in the Rule…
It is no use rediscovering any of our church’s roots, nor discerning innovative ways to be faithful to our church’s calling, if we won’t slow down, stay longer even if we can’t stay put indefinitely, and stake something like a vow of stability. Slow down – because postmodernism may be hypermodernism. Stay longer – because there is no way to discern God’s will together without commitment to sit long together in the first place. A vow of stability – because it is no use discerning appropriate ways to be Christian disciples in our age if we do not embody them through time, testing, and the patience with one another that our good ideas and great ideals need, in order to prove their worth as communal practices.
I have pretty much swallowed the contemporary myth that freedom is the failure to make deep connections or commitments to a place. I’ve moved about thirteen times in the ten years of my adult life.