Archive for July 2012
On Saturday, Jul 7, 2012 at 5:19 PM, Mark Krey wrote:
I just finished reading “What happened to the Reformation” for the second time. I very much enjoyed the book review, it was very informative. Before I tell you exactly what I thought of it, I’ll just give you an idea of the impression I got of Harm Klueting after I read your work. I looked into him before I read and only really got up to speed about his leaving the Lutheran Church and joining the Catholic Church and how he was allowed to stay married to his wife who had become a nun. May I say I think it’s bold and awesome that you sent a copy to Harm Klueting right off the bat. I think he’ll really appreciate it.
I really couldn’t understand why Klueting would want to be Catholic after having been a Lutheran minister. Maybe it’s just because I’m a Lutheran and the idea of not being able to marry and devoting one’s life to spreading the gospel of love just seems contradictory. How can you preach love when you yourself deny yourself one of the most beautiful aspects of love? Marriage.
The conclusion I’ve come to is that Klueting falls into a category of people that I can most closely relate to celebrities who get involved in the church of Scientology here in Hollywood. They’re a kind of people who as opposed to championing the underdog and the free / individual thinker, they champion big brother, or secret societies/ secret knowledge. It’s an obsession for them and they’d rather be a small part of a bigger organization that claims to have an upper hand on the rest of the population as opposed to being a free thinking (play by your own rules) sort of person, who answers to no one but God. I myself fall into the second category.
Institutions of any kind I always approach with a watchful eye. Institutions, especially the bigger ones, always have a higher chance of corruption and I think the most important people involved in huge institutions are their internal affairs and human resources committees. I believe that even every film set should have an internal affairs person to make sure abuse is not present.
The other possibility, for which I would have to find evidence somehow, would be that Klueting left the Lutheran Church out of love because it was something his wife wanted and he wished to accompany her. I remember reading in the article I found on him that his wife had converted to Catholicism before him and because she was a nun already when he converted to a Catholic Priest they allowed them to stay married. In that case I guess Klueting might just be seen as a kind of lover who will take whatever side his wife may have taken out of support, even if it means writing a book in favor of Catholicism and discrediting the Reformation of the church he just recently was a member of. Once again, however, I’d have to find some kind of evidence for it.
Your Ph.D. really shines through in “What Happened to the Reformation” because you are really a master of that period of time and it’s very evident when reading the piece. Because I’m not super well versed in that period of history, as I’m sure Klueting most likely is, I’m not totally able to give you very insightful thoughts on the topic. However, I do feel like it was an amazing history lesson and it did give me anecdotal evidence in support of all the claims I’ve heard that the Catholic Church was full of a lot of rot throughout history. Particularly Pope Julius II and his interdicts.
With your scholarship in this subject it’s quite evident that Klueting has not gotten away with any of the major issues he has breezed over in his book. What was most comforting to me about that was the idea that if someone with little knowledge of that time period, like myself, were to read his book, perhaps they would question if the Reformation was a historical occurrence that had been blown out of proportion and was in fact just a European myth. That reminds me of when people say Jesus Christ is just a myth and a friend once told me that the same people who say that 500 to 800 years from now will be saying the same thing about George Washington and Martin Luther King Jr. I would say in no more than 500 years they’ll definitely be saying Alexander the Great was a myth as well. I’ve heard there is more contemporary historical evidence to support Jesus than there is for Alexander the Great. I don’t know if that’s true or not however.
You set an interesting stage at the beginning of the book review. You noted that the Protestant Reformation was squeezed between two periods in history: the Late Medieval Period and the Confessional Age. It’s really mind boggling to me just how rich and complex the period surrounding the Reformation really was. I know sometimes when we’ve talked about it, it can transition from one landmark event to another even just spanning Luther’s lifetime. The opening preface also has a good shock with Tom Brady and Heinz Schilling’s claim that the Reformation is “A harmless foundational myth for the belated German nation.” And they are right about one thing in that statement. Now that Harm Klueting is in fact a Catholic Priest, the Lutheran Reformation certainly is Harm-less. Ha, ha – just kidding.
Although that is a shocking claim he makes and to me was one of the first things that made me think Klueting is a bit of a radical for the Catholic Church and as I said before for reasons I’m not entirely certain of.
The idea that European historians, especially German ones, study the Reformation as a universal revolutionary turning point, was interesting. I suppose it shows a pride in the German nation and not at all that the claim that it is a universal revolutionary turning point is false. I know you mention a few times in the book review that nationalism is a false ultimate. I also found it interesting that there is a camp of historians who look at the Reformation exclusively outside of the context of the church, that is, only from a political and sociological standpoint. They strongly criticize those who look at the Reformation as something intimately connected to the church by saying that they are doing theology and not history.
This reminds me so much of an argument regarding the Bible. The argument is whether to see it as a historical document or as a metaphorical and religious/ mythological document. I suppose a middle ground has to be found in that argument. I liked your statement that the way you approach the argument on the two camps of historical Reformation study, is you look at the Reformation/ Luther as helping usher in the modern times in the countries where it was dominant but not in the countries where it was not dominant.
But I really agree with you that the Reformation was essential in progress in the areas it was prevalent in and most certainly wasn’t some kind of myth that was blown out of proportion. I would say it does fit the description of a revolutionary turning point in history. I never really realized just what a big impact it had on the state before I read your book review. Because the church and state were so intimately connected a reformation of the church directly affected and changed the very nature of the state and that’s amazing. A historian who wants to argue the Reformation was just a harmless myth has to be pretty oblivious to that.
I felt like you set the foundation early in your book review to address the problem of the power that the Catholic Church was wielding during the time of the Reformation. I noticed it when you put forth the ideas that the Catholic monastic orders became transnational corporations and the Roman Catholic Church became the first Western State. You juxtaposed those statements with the goal of all the nations answering to Christ’s kingdom of heaven. By the time I read deeper into the book review and was learning the history of Pope Pius IX and Leo XIII, it became clear to me that the Catholic Monastic order becoming the first Transnational corporation and the Roman Catholic Church becoming the first Western state in no way advanced the world toward the goal of the nations answering to Christ’s kingdom of heaven. In fact it had made the Popes power hungry and greedy and unwilling to let go of power even if it meant using military force. That’s almost as far from Christ as one can get.
In the next part of my response to your book review I’ll mention some details I liked and thoughts I had. I’ll add a further observation I came up with about Klueting from reading more of your review of his book and I’ll mention some other anecdotal things you mentioned that I found informative.
I loved your concept of the sovereign suffering servant combating nationalism and even the subtle destructive divisions of religion. That, to me, is the ultimate power of Christ. He can truly unify us all in mercy, love and forgiveness. It made me say to myself Christ is bigger than the label “Christianity”. The name of Jesus is beyond Christianity and religion for that matter.
It was around this part of your review, I can’t remember the precise page number, that I started to really see how the Reformation affected the state as I’d never truly understood before. I think it’s good and reasonable that you stated it isn’t right to call Luther the father of modern individualism but that he did make scripture and faith a deeply personal thing. In my opinion, that is a huge contribution to individualism. Though you’re right it in no way makes him the father of it.
I loved the quote of Luther that “Christians should cherish excommunication”. That’s a classic kind of school-of-hell Luther perspective. I thought it was beautiful that you mentioned John Paul II forgiving his would-be assassin. I’ve always liked John Paul as a Pope. It’s too bad he’s gone. I thought it was a brutal but informative anecdote about Henry VIII killing three Lutherans next to three Catholics.
But now going back to the discussion of what ushered in the modern times. I think it is valid to say, how you did say, Luther was a big influence in ushering in the modern times where the Reformation was dominant but you quote Klueting as saying “The onset of modern times remains ambiguous.” To me that just sounds like another cop out on Klueting’s part. His historical perspective in my opinion is not an intelligent one. Other details you point out from his book gave me the impression he’s downplaying the Reformation, covering it up, and even giving the Catholic Church a kind of credit for it as if it was a catholic reformation because the Catholic Church had gotten out of hand. Two things specifically you mention are the way he looks at the council of Trent in a good way when historians agree it was pretty pessimistic and much later in the book review you mention how just when Klueting could go into the 30 Years War, something you mention the Jesuits as having laid the ground work for, he just breezes by it and starts talking about the Baroque Era and the catholic reformation. So Klueting’s historical perspective doesn’t seem intelligent to me and that, to me, is one of the things that makes your book review good because someone with no knowledge of this time period, like myself, could take Klueting’s book as a well thought out scholarly work and suddenly say to myself, “Well, I guess the Reformation really wasn’t that big of a deal” or even “it was more of a myth”.
You have many terrific comparisons in your review. I notice also that you focus on the topic of the power of coercion versus not being allowed to coerce for a little while. Leading up to that you had some historical references and statements about nationalism and descriptions of the Catholic Church at that time that inspired some interesting thoughts in me.
I loved your comparison of the Jewish High Priest delivering Christ to the Romans to be crucified and a Bishop delivering a so called heretic to the civil authorities to be burnt at the stake. That is such a direct and blatant misuse of religious authority. They must have been so blind to the scriptures.
I loved your comparison of Luther to Galileo. The way Polanyi believed the Marxists trying to control scientists would destroy science. It made me think of the scientific method being corrupted to meet the kind of outcome the Marxists wanted. In the same way Luther felt the Papacy burning heretics was destroying the Christian conscience. If every one’s scared of being burned no one can be a Christ for someone else or worse yet, if they believe there are certain people who deserve to burn because the church deems it necessary then there’s no such thing as true Mercy, or at least the Mercy Christ wished to give.
To make a comparison of my own, I enjoyed how you boldly submitted the statement that “The authentic spiritual concern of the Secular Princes far surpassed that of the Roman Curia”. It made me think of Christ bringing the good news to the gentiles and how the gentiles were more passionate about it then God’s own chosen people the Jews.
Also it was a fascinating detail you mentioned about Luther listening to the quiet voice of his conscience. I thought to myself, is that where God resides? In our consciences? Like Elijah hearing the still small voice. And you mention later in the review how Luther quotes Christ as saying “Beware the kingdom of God is within you”. You manage to incorporate some really valuable insights into God being within and the kingdom of heaven as well in this book review.
Now one of the major insights I had from reading your review came from some of the very thoroughly described passages of exactly how the Catholic Church operated and appeared back then. You quote Berman about how the Clergy was the first translocal, transtribal, transfeudal, and transnational class in Europe to achieve political and legal unity and how they did it to combat the Emperor. I thought to myself, what’s worse, a legion of uniform, dogmatic, indoctrinated priests that make an immovable excommunicating institution with the power to burn people at the stake or an Emperor who is all powerful who can do whatever he wants. Are they the same thing? Thinking about it, there is such a thing as mob mentality and perhaps someone like a King can’t kill as many people as an institution can. Of course I really don’t know what the answer to that is. Though overall the idea the clergy mobilized so fast is frightening.
The excerpt from Berman you used really made me see how one could call the church the first state and reading about the German Bishops, the Bishop reforms, and the Princes who were Emergency-Bishops really amazed me at how religious authorities back then were so intimately connected to rulers.
And so the thought came to mind for me at this point that things were coming to a head, and that this had not been going on just since the founding of the Christian church back when Constantine declared Christianity the religion of Rome, but that it’s been going on since the beginning of time: Religion as a governing power. Looking back at all the ancient kings probably most of them were despots and high priests and so ruling over people went hand in hand with having religious authority. Thus when I read your passage about Luther burning the cannon law it struck a chord with me. It’s like Religion (as a code or guideline not as a ritual for comfort and connection to God) itself in many ways is like a symbol of human sin, and we need to rise above religion and see that religion should hold no Law above us. It’s like the very idea that religion should be supported and empowered goes against what religion really is and doesn’t make it religion any longer.
Like you mention later in the review an idea I loved very much. Taking away the power of coercion and excommunication from the church made it more Christ-like. Thus in many ways giving the power back to Christ. It’s like how is Christ all powerful if every time someone profaned his name we went and killed that person. It just shows me that Allah and Mohamed must in fact be the weakest and most insecure religious figures in all of history.
All of your statements really rang true for me in regard to coercion vs. non coercion. I love your quote “Christ invited us into the life of the Gospel, which cannot be legislated”. You bring up nationalism within your book review a few times. You restate it at the end as well: “Nationalism is a distortion of religious fervor and a nation is a false ultimate”. Earlier in the book review you state that “it is Catholic (universal) Christian fervor that I believe became transformed into nationalism”. This, to me though I have not really read up on the subject of nationalism, seems like a very unique and interesting idea. Your review definitely gives weight to the idea. Not only that, but you address it from a standpoint of why nationalism should not be considered from the Christian perspective: “Christian spiritual fervor should trump nationalism”. I felt a bit like you were relating this to the idea of following the sovereign suffering servant.
You also say that Muslims still need to get to that point and I couldn’t agree more. With your argument about nationalism, you beautifully utilize a quote of Luther that made me see some of Christ’s word through new eyes. That while people are searching for an ultimate in nationalism, and not finding it, we read in the scripture Christ’s own words telling us just where his kingdom is. You quote Luther talking about God’s non bodily kingdom using Christ’s words “My kingdom is not of this world”. What an implication that was to me. Looking at it from a political and sociological standpoint Christ’s kingdom cannot be one with a ruler and states and laws and boundaries because those are all earthly human sociological and political standards for a kingdom. If Christ’s kingdom is not of this world it simply cannot contain any of those. It has new and different standards and laws that govern it. Some we may never be able to understand in this lifetime, but all of them based in Love, mercy, forgiveness, hope and faith I would imagine.
To further illustrate the two kingdoms theory that you mention throughout the book review, toward the end you juxtapose two observations of the two kingdoms. In the sight of the world power, accomplishments, and wealth get people’s attention. God does not notice such things, however. To get God’s attention you do the things (and become good at the things) that are of value in his kingdom: meditation, teaching, counseling. Also the quote of Luther you mention that “The Popes’ excommunicating for material gain in truth meant that they spiritually excommunicated themselves in the end”. That is a very informative illustration of some of the laws that govern the kingdom of heaven.
I think it’s great that because you know the history so well you’re able to point out a lot of the ghastly things that the Catholic Church did during this time period that Klueting seems to breeze over. It’s better for the world in general to have different perspectives on historical periods like this. Although I will agree with you that I also found one thing interesting from Klueting’s work. You mentioned that he clarified the meaning of “Huguenot”: The idea that it meant “those who had taken oaths to be comrades together”. To me it was moving, because it made their persecution and suffering more real to me.
A question I had, and I believe the question came up simply because I’m not well versed in the history of the Catholic Church. You mention that the Pope remained a prisoner of the Vatican until Pope John Paul II, who was the most recent Pope and who just died. I know you mention that Pius the IX declared himself prisoner of the Vatican. Was there something that happened in history? Did John Paul II declare himself no longer to be a prisoner in the last century? Just curious. It was an interesting passage in your book review and it prompted me to want to know more about that situation.
The following are some more quotes and ideas of Luther, some anecdotal stories from your book review, and some of your quotes that I really liked. I liked the following Luther quotes “The only standing we have is God’s Mercy”. Also Luther’s classic idea of opposites coming into play. “Complete opposition between God and the Human, and in that dynamic tension, humanity itself becomes elevated into divinity”. It’s quotes like that one that always make me say talking with Luther must have been a really far out experience. He must have blown peoples’ minds often.
It was moving to read what Thomas Cranmer said about the Pope right before he was burned on the stake: “He denies him like Christ’s enemy and the Antichrist”. Pretty bold. It sounds like the Arch Bishop of Canterbury was a dude with some pretty strong religious convictions. The quote you use from Thomas Hobbes to describe the Catholic Church is often how I’ve thought of the Catholic Church. It really paints an amazing picture: “The ghost of the Roman empire on the grave thereof!”
At the bottom of page 39 and the top of page 40 you go into the topic of free will. This was a particularly interesting part for me as free will has been a topic on my mind regularly since I moved out from my roommates back in October. One thing to me that makes Luther’s words so applicable to my life in this day and age is his almost Buddhist or Zen-like thoughts on the will of God and human free will. As you state before, the Catholics say humans have a free will but that it does not always align with God’s will. Luther believes God miraculously acts through us so that even our free will is actually God acting in us to bring about his will.
To me this is just a groundbreaking understanding of life itself. We cannot know when our very sins are being used to aid God’s will. In this day and age, perhaps because I was raised Lutheran, I don’t like taking credit for good things I’ve done because I know it wasn’t me that did those things, but it was God inside of me. I know I can do nothing without God. If God truly took his hand away from me, I wouldn’t even be able to get out of bed in the morning. Thus sometimes when I’ve been angry with someone and I think of the terrible things I could have done or terrible things I could have said to them I’m not grateful to myself that I did not say or do the things, I see it as a blessing from God.
When I look back at my life and I see that I haven’t been to jail, or gotten some girl pregnant, or killed someone, I say that’s not because I’m scared or extra nice or just in the wrong place at the right time, but that it is because it has not been God’s will to have me do those things. Now if down the road I find myself in the unfortunate position that I have done some of those things, while I may feel terrible about it, it’s important for me to remember that it may be for God’s ultimate purpose and will that I did those things and God may be working on turning my sins into blessings. It makes sense to me now in my life more than ever Luther’s belief that a Christian has no free will and what seems like the will of a Christian is actually God working through them.
My co star for the film I just did is an Episcopal and he and I and another member of the crew where talking religion. He was explaining the Episcopal faith and asked me what it was exactly that we as Lutherans believe. I tried to explain to him but it was quite literally after he explained as an Episcopal he believed it was important to try to get God’s word out there and to help people. I tried to explain Protestantism to him right after that by simply saying we’re saved by faith and you can do whatever you want. For him it seemed too big of a leap of faith to believe that if a human being can do whatever they want that they will do good. I tried to explain that God can use our sin and the things we do wrong even to push his will further and that it might be a part of God’s plan for us to wind up in jail or something of that nature, but while he seemed to understand that on a kind of Zen, Ying and Yang kind of level, he didn’t seem to be able to grasp faith in one’s self: that the spirit of Christ is in all of us. And I don’t know if that’s what it comes down to, but often to me it feels like that. Like I need to have faith Christ is in me and is working through me and then I have to go with what feels right and even as Luther says “If you’re going to sin, then sin boldly, but more boldly still believe”.
And on that note of God using our sins and death as a way of bringing life, I’ll end this response to your wonderful book review with your own quote that really spoke to me.
“How much easier to burn an enemy of the faith at the stake, rather than burn with fervent love, hope, and faith, like
the burning bush whose fire did not consume its branches!”
Just like the cross, a symbol of death and despair became the very symbol of life and hope, so, as your quotes truly illustrate, the burning of all the martyrs in that rough period of history, each of them is like a fire that will never go out testifying to the truth of Christ. Great job Pop! This was an enjoyable and incredibly informative read and I hope my response is helpful to you.
July 9, 2012
Thank you so much for your response to my piece. When you learn more about the period in question, you’ll be more critical of my work. I’m really not quite the master of the material the way you take me to be. I have studied it a little, however.
That is quite an insight you have about the large institutions having corruption problems. Lord Acton: “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It would have been good if the Catholic bishops had had an internal affairs committee to watch out over the bishops and how they were more concerned with their reputation than the victims of the priests who were into pedophilia and child abuse. That could have saved them all the trouble they are now in.
That you label Harm Klueting a bit radical, I think comes down to the tendency of converts to be more fervent than long standing adherents of a religion, St. Paul, for example. Thank you for pointing out the fact that Klueting was a Lutheran pastor before he converted, following his wife, who became a Carmelite nun. That is really significant!
It is very difficult to prove the existence of a historical figure. It seems a stretch to say that Jesus was a myth, when he has over two billion followers in the world today. Albert Schweitzer in his book, The Search for the Historical Jesus, refuted such nineteenth century arguments by David Friedrich Strauss and Bruno Bauer. And the Protestant Reformation was no myth: in the year 2000 it is estimated that there were 1 billion, 57 million Catholics in the world, 342 million Protestants, 386 million Independents, probably Pentecostals; 215 million Orthodox, and 79 million Anglicans – and 26 million other Christians. If you add the Protestants, the Pentecostals, and Anglicans, there are more Christians influenced by the Reformation than the Catholic Church.
You picked up on an insight that Tom Brady and I had during a discussion: that catholic monastic orders took the Protestant form of transnational corporations. It follows from Max Weber’s theory of inner worldly asceticism stemming from the “priesthood of all believers.” Weber would develop his theory more from a rationalism of Calvinist tradition than from Luther, of course. But Calvin was very much influenced by Luther.
That the Roman Catholic Church became the first Western state is an insight from Berman and very few scholars have taken Luther’s legal revolution into account that stripped the Church of its coercive power through the rule of law. Luther pointed out that coercion and persuasion were obviously incompatible and that is one part of his two kingdom theory.
I like the way you notice that Harm Klueting is giving the culprit the credit for the Reformation. One can really speak of a tyranny of the Catholic Church as a quasi-state in those days that makes sense of Luther’s hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” A line in a verse we usually do not sing goes “God’s Word forever will abide, no thanks to foes who fear it.” Klueting’s revision of history that exchanges the good guys for the bad guys is not cool.
When the French Catholics wiped out most of the Huguenots in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, the pope had a Te Deum sung in Rome. But we cannot be triumphalist, because Luther also sinned against the peasants and the Jews.
The early ecumenical movement began to notice that nationalism was problematic for Christianity. As I mentioned on the telephone, my father as a machine gunner in the First World War heard the Tommy lying out in the battle field screaming the name of Jesus before they died. Here he was a German drafted out of the seminary, a fervent Christian shooting other Christians just because he was German and the Tommy was British! What was wrong with this picture? Nationalism was stronger than our witness to Christ and our fervor for the kingdom of heaven.
I think the best metaphor for the Catholic Church burning heretics at the stake the way the Jewish High Priest had Jesus crucified, comes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: if the salt has lost its saltiness, with what can it be salted? (Mat 5:13) When the Church is doing that it has lost its salt and it needs to be reformed. Luther did not consider himself to be the Reformer, but Christ himself. Christus Reformator, Christ himself is the Reformer of a church that needs continual reformation: Ecclesia semper reformanda!
You pick up the Berman insight that the “Clergy was the first translocal, transtribal, transfeudal, and transnational class in Europe to achieve political and legal unity.” And you point out, “How they did it to combat the Emperor.” Joseph Lortz another Catholic historian, whom I greatly admire, pointed out that when the papacy did-in the emperor, they took away the universalism of the papacy. The pope and the emperor were supposed to stand by each other. Suddenly the papacy was usurping the temporal power of the emperor and even becoming a territorial monarch among others, because of the slow and steady dissolution of the empire. In taking the side of the king of France against the emperor, the papacy went into the Avignon Captivity and became a French bishop for seventy years. Thereafter this captivity issued into the great Schism of Italian popes against the French popes. At the conclusion of the schism there were three popes excommunicating each other.
I don’t know how viable the setup would have been if the popes and emperors had held together. It would still have been an earthly arrangement that would ultimately have been accountable to Christ and the judgment of the kingdom of heaven. No earthly arrangement can make claims to ultimacy.
The class of clergy described by Berman was organized by the revolution that Hildebrand, that is, Pope Gregory VII put into place in the eleventh century. He setup the episcopal courts under the canon law and enforced clerical celibacy. For the investiture controversy, he also made sure that no temporal king could place a bishop into office over a province. Kings and princes liked to do that, because then, like the pope, they did not have to worry about a son trying to be the successor of the father in that office. If the ruler was a bishop, then every son was illegitimate. But if the king placed a prince over a province, then that prince would want his son to follow him and the king would lose control of the succession. So kings wanted the right to call bishops. While they had that long controversy, the church won that exclusive right. But then the church had Prince-bishops that were placed by the pope and that had temporal rule, that is, just like the secular rulers. That way the church gained against the temporal rulers both in temporal rule and in owning ever more productive property. That is where Berman’s class of priests gets the better of the secular rulers and the shot goes over the bow of the clericalist ship of state, when Luther proclaims “the priesthood of all believers.” Luther was overturning Gregory’s revolution, like a second Hildebrand undoing the problematic legal and temporal implications of the revolution of the first.
You have many wonderful insights from pages 11 to 15 that are a real contribution. In terms of Popes Pius IX and Leo XIII declaring themselves “Prisoners of the Vatican,” I used to think it was only a matter of the popes sulking about their loss of the Papal States and Rome to the nation of Italy. Now I realize they always depended on Catholic nations to send in armies to conquer the Papal States and Rome for the papacy again. After 1870 no Catholic nation would comply again, so their loss became permanent. My hypothesis is that the papacy was the reason for the belated nationhood of Germany as well as Italy and I realize that I am inconsistent about my position on the progress of nationhood, when I call nations false ultimates. But I believe that if a papacy wants to have sovereignty over a state it stands in a greater contradiction to the Lord Christ and the kingdom of heaven, because of the use of military power in making the conquest and coercive maintenance of power thereafter, than when secular rulers do that and have it. They could not do that in the name of God.
On the freedom of the will, I have a question. If a person can’t receive credit for the good things they’ve done, can they be blamed for the evil things, for crimes that they’ve committed? Even though this is inconsistent, I believe that such a person can be blamed. Luther was inconsistent as well when he held that God did elect believers for eternal life, but did not elect unbelievers for eternal damnation. Calvin believed in double predestination, while Luther did not. Luther held that things could not be understood in the light of nature that could be understood in the light of grace and those things that could not be understood in the light of grace could be understood in the light of glory. Why a person who commits a crime can be blamed cannot be understood in the light of grace, (he argued) but could be understood in the light of glory. (He writes about these three levels of life and thought at the end of his Bondage of the Will.
You are broaching some difficult territory in your free will discussion. The glory of God is that God changes the evil that we do into blessings. Think of Joseph’s brothers, who almost kill him and then sell Joseph into the living death of slavery. It is the glory of God that changed that crime into an important milestone on God’s way of salvation – to save the chosen people from starvation in the great famine and the greater miracle of turning around the hardened hearts of his brothers by forgiving them. It also, of course, set the stage for the Exodus with Moses. Joseph is also like a pre-figuration of Christ, especially in his tough love and his heart-rending forgiveness of his brothers. But they had to live a lie for 22 years before they had to face up to their lie and they were exposed openly for it.
So somehow, it is not evil per se, but only that evil that God can change into a blessing. But God is omnipotent and sometimes I say, omnipotent in love, meaning that God’s omnipotence should not be understood in the sense of science or Greek natural philosophy. I’m not sure of myself here. I want to limit science and Greek philosophy here rather than God. The important thing is to remain under that heaven of grace that Luther writes about.
You write, “On that note of God using our sins and death as a way of bringing life, I’ll end this response to your wonderful book.” You are really down deep with your insight there, which nearly takes my breath away. You realize that with Christ in us, that as his death became our life, so our deaths become the lives of others. Like I realized that with Christ in us, we also become Words of God like Christ is the Word of God. I used to say that we are little christs, but I was corrected by Timothy Wengert, a colleague of Philip’s in Philadelphia, who showed me that in the “Freedom of a Christian” Luther said we become Christs to others, not little ones.
But let me add another insight that I had preaching about on 1 Corinthians 13 to our family congregation one time in Wilmington. We can bear all things, believe, hope, and endure all things, so long as we are in the hand of God. It does not apply outside God’s hand. For us, however, there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God: neither death nor life, nor angels or rulers, powers or principalities, etc. (Romans 8:37-38) or take us out of the hand of God, because we are more than conquerors through him who loved us!
Mark, your response meant so much to me and I am so grateful to you for it.
Mark Krey 9:06 PM (3 hours ago) July11, 2012
njoyed your response to my response 🙂
I agree with you that converts can be more zealous then those who have been practicing for a long time. Take Cat Stevens for instance and the whole Salman Rushdie Scandal.
It was really fascinating to me that you look at Saint Paul in that way and I think that is a very valuable take on scripture because it gives more of a understanding of Paul’s narrow point of view, what with homosexuality and all. That’s pretty enlightening! Thanks Dad 🙂
I think it’s cool that Luther saw himself as Christ because it gives further weight to how we are all Christs as you say and we are all the light of the world for that matter. Luther was a real light back in his period of history I would say, with the exception as you mentioned his “smite stab and slay” remarks. We all fall short of course.
I feel that whether a person takes blame for the horrible things they’ve done or not, the world will most certainly give them what is due. But the world’s good vs. bad detector, in many ways, is far more black and white than grey in my opinion. Also, unfortunately because of Money and Power a lot of Bad can go unnoticed in the world. It’s still the big mystery to me, I suppose but I really can understand Luther’s comment about Glory vs. Grace.
Surely there is no Glory in committing Evil, perhaps in ancient times warfare was glorified, but there was something else to that, it wasn’t only the bloodshed, it was also the valor, running headlong into death and not thinking twice about it. There was something really admirable about it and I think that was a big part in what made war glorious and added to the blood shed as a glorious thing.
But I can imagine there is no glory to be had in these multimillion dollar companies opening sweat shops in other countries. Any person who would find some kind of pride evoking glory for themselves through these actions is someone who is quite disillusioned and when the clarity of mind and truth arrives at their door, they’ll be in for a real shocker.
But one thing that I always think about is how God’s will is not carried out in a glorious way. I mean God’s ultimate salvation to mankind was one of Grace, but Christ’s royal march to his throne was more of a brutal torturous hike to a horrendous humiliating death. And yet I look upon the scene of his march to Golgotha and his being lifted up on the cross as one of the highest glories a human can achieve. Thus, to me, he is God.
I agree that what is most important is staying under the heaven of God’s grace, although I have no guarantee that I will not fall under the spell of sin and wind up feeling like a slave to sin and socially dead as well. But even in such a condition I suppose it’s necessary to still believe I’m under the heaven of God’s grace and God will get me out of it and bring some good from it.
I agree with you too that nothing can take us out of God’s Hand. We are utterly his forever 🙂
I’m looking forward to seeing you guys on the 17th! I’ll be at the film set on the 14th and 15th, this weekend, so I don’t know I’ll be able to call you guys before then, but I’ll definitely see you on the 17th!
On Thursday, Jul 12, 2012 at 10:53 PM, Peter Krey wrote:
July 12, 2012
I was still thinking about your statements about whatever God did through you whether good or evil, God would somehow use it to God’s purposes. While reading today, a thought came in edgewise. You should not have a sense of divine fatalism, like you had to be resigned to whatever fate God ascribed to you. First I thought we who follow Christ, participate in Divine creativity. Then I thought, we share God’s Will, when we are one with God. Thus we even participate in the freedom of God’s Will, especially when we have died to ourselves and come alive to God in Christ. So it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us. Especially if we have come to understand that we too are therefore Words of God and Lights of the World.
That is a far cry from a fatalism, when we actually participate in the freedom of God’s will – that is something far greater freedom than mere human free will.
I wonder if those thoughts are helpful?
From: M. Krey
Date: Monday, Jul 16, 2012 at 3:34 PM
To: Peter Krey
Thanks for your thoughts. I think I have been dealing with a kind of divine fatalism lately. Through your e-mail you expressed an idea I never really understood till now. I’d heard you speak of how God makes us a part of God’s continuous creation.
So from the e-mail you sent I now understand it. As members of the body of Christ, we all, together, create the body of Christ, God himself, who is always acting and always active building on his creation. God works with us through our will and adds to his creation. Thus when we create something to bring it into the world, it is actually God working through us bringing a new thing into the creation. Thus we are all gods or as you’ve said little Christs that, added together, create a complete Christ that is using all of our wills to push forth his will of continuous creation that is actually our will as well. Basically our will and dreams and hopes are important to God in that they are also God’s will and dreams and hopes because we are all the members of Christ that make up the body of Christ.
I never really understood that until now; until you e-mailed me. When I was speaking of my own will and neither being responsible for the good or the bad that I would do, I wasn’t taking into consideration my own creativity. I think, though a lot of times I don’t notice it, my creativity is a kind of free will I wouldn’t be able to live without. It’s a freeing and beautiful idea to think I am acting with God when I wish to bring something beautiful into existence. That it is God working through me to make his creation more beautiful.
I’m looking forward to seeing You, Mom and Josh and having an adventure on the east coast! See you tomorrow morning!
Blogging my thoughts:
The Op-Ed page in the New York Times today was pretty inspiring. Milos Forman, the film director of “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” showed how those who claimed President Obama was a socialist didn’t know what they are talking about. He described socialism as he had experienced it and there is no comparison.
He argued that we had to keep in mind the melody of our country and how some harmony is required for us to make it. “But if just one section, or even one player, is out of tune, the music will disintegrate into cacophony.”
I don’t want to blame one party for the gridlock in Washington, because the real reason for the chasm between different political ideologies is the chasm that has grown between the rich and the everyday people of our country. In the words of Chief Justice Brandeis, “We can have democracy or the great wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, but we can’t have both.” Our representatives in Washington are caught in the social forces, the money, that is, issuing from our social and economic inequality.
In their piece Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer compare the economy to a garden and argue that it is not a rational machine. Harmful economic activity needs to be weeded out and healthy economic activity needs to be supported. Taxes and government spending is like watering the garden, when it spent for education and health, and is better compared to the circulation system than money that just goes down the drain.
In my blogging I have compared taxation to pruning of trees and bushes in order to make them bear fruit for the common good rather than wild, destructive, and contradictory growth.
Liu and Hanauer argue that
“Under the efficient market hypothesis, taxes are an extraction of resources from the jobs machine, or more literally taking the money out of the economy. It is not just separate from economic activity, but hostile to it. This is why most Americans believe that lower taxes will automatically lead to more prosperity. Yet if there were a shred of truth to this, then given our historically low tax rates we would today be drowning in jobs and general prosperity.”
The authors argue that jobs come from the organic feed-back loop between consumers and business, which requires a thriving middle class. The severe concentration of wealth kills middle class demand and jobs do not trickle down but emerge from the middle out. “To spend tax dollars on education and health is to circulate nutrients through the garden.”
“True, not all spending is equally useful, and not every worthy idea for spending is affordable. But this perspective helps us understand why the most prosperous economies are those that tax and spend the most, while those that tax and spend the least are failures. More important, it clarifies why more austerity cannot revive an already weak private economy and why more spending can.“
After the misguided Bush tax cuts (and the two wars) we lost 8 million jobs beginning our Great Recession. Money that could have renewed our infrastructure was in part lost in the Wall Street bubble with irrational derivatives and credit default swaps, where more weeds like Bernie Madoff and other Ponzi schemes were hiding among the wild growth in our financial sector, which made up 47% of our economy. The other part of the tax cuts, I believe, made our government have to buy bonds and increase the debt by loaning money from those who would have had to pay it in taxes. Thus our government has been taken hostage by those who should have paid taxes.
To pay taxes is a patriotic duty and serves to socialize our inherent selfishness. The tithe, which means giving the first ten percent of income to the church or charities, demonstrates one’s faith in God. Paying our taxes demonstrates our good faith as citizens of our commonwealth. It brings harmony into the garden of our economy. Liu and Hanauer argue well that their garden approach to the economy is pro-business and not at all anti-capitalist.
To me it seemed that politicians first promised tax-cuts in order to bribe voters into voting for them against their own interests. Now with Grover Norquist’s no tax pledge, which so many have signed, what seemed irrational has attained the level of insanity, unless one believes in anarchy. (Norquist merely wants to shrink government down enough to drown it in the bathtub.) Governor Pat Brown running against Ronald Reagan wondered, if he hated government so much, why he would want to be the president. It was like an anti-Catholic wanting to become the pope.
The huge deficits that Reagan and George W. Bush left because of their tax cuts show that they were using both to dismantle big government. When Reagan talked of the corner drugstore he was avoiding mention of the huge pharmaceuticals. Privatization does not give more power to the common person and get the government off an individual’s back, but places us into the power of the corporations. As the state governments get into trouble and city governments here in California go bankrupt, more and more public facilities have to name themselves directly after corporations. A change of pitchers now requires one to hear about oil change or what not. You pay to see a movie and you have to watch commercials and the movie contains commercials in the feature. The market is colonizing our life world in places it has no right to be.
Why did FDR create big government? In order to bully the huge corporations into taking our national interests into consideration. Where is the allegiance of global transnational corporations, except for their own private wealth?
Public citizens standing up for public interests and the commonwealth have to take a stand against all this privatization. Private armies, private jails, private schools! If we could sell California’s state government to Google, it could take care of our deficit in a jiffy. Why not let Google become one of the fifty states? What’s in the name “California”? Why not privatize it? The CEO of Oracle just bought an island in Hawaii.
We have just been into downsizing, where hatchet men fired whole departments to replace them with temporary workers. There is an army of unemployed, making workers have to do the work of three or more laid off workers. Should you complain, there are ten other workers standing in line for your job. Then there is the out-sourcing of labor and the remark from a CEO in the down-sizing time: “We don’t owe you a living?” For the sake of mega profits, productive workers were laid off in droves. Are the people there for the sake of the corporations or the corporations there for the sake of the people? Pray tell.
Definitions of Performatives
By Dr. Peter Krey
To understand this brief essay, it would be helpful to first read my essay, Performative Declarations.
The only semblance of a definition of the performative that I found by J. L. Austin was hidden away in his book, How to Do Things with Words, and it is not really designated as one:
Performatives begin with a highly significant and unambiguous expression, such as “I bet”, “I promise”, “I bequeath” an expression very commonly also used in naming the act which, in making such an utterance, I am performing, e.g., betting, promising, bequeathing, etc. It’s syntax shows that reflexivity is being described: “naming an act which, in making such an utterance….” (This is the passage in full length. page 32.)
In “How Performatives Work” John Searle describes performatives as executive, self-referential speech acts, which need to be in the first person and the dramatic or present present tense.
To quote Searle again: “To be performative the semantic content of the verb needs to function essentially and successfully in the saying of the sentence, in the performance of the speech act.”
The Symbolic Structure of the Declaration (Sometimes called the Performative Declaration)
I would now like to make a comparison of the symbolic structures of assertives, directives, and commissives with the structure of the declaration class of speech acts. Following John Searle’s definitive article on performatives called, “How Performatives Work,” it can be shown that the assertive is derived from the declaration and the declaration cannot be derived from the assertive, because the self-guaranteeing aspect of the performative cannot be achieved in this way.
When Searle noted in class that the psychological state of the declaration could not be a null set ø but was most likely a belief, want, or intention, then the symmetry between the assertive and the directive, comprising the declarative; or the assertive and commissive doing so, seemed to be obvious from a comparison of their symbolic structures:
Just reading this from the symbolic structure certainly does not do enough, but to think that you can change the state of affairs by just representing it as having been changed shows the double nature of the performative declaration. As superficial as this level of description is, it shows that the declaration cannot be a combination of the promise and the order, because then the word to world direction of fit would not be achieved. Thus belief needs to be a component with the want, desire or intention. The fact that the proposition is combined with an act either by the speaker or hearer is interesting. In a performative declaration, there is the intention which becomes manifest, and the proposition is made true by the speech act. The double direction of fit is achieved, the world to word and the word to world. But while the promise and order speak of a future voluntary act, in this extra-linguistic performative, the action now takes place in the extra-linguistic institution simultaneously with the utterance, just the same way the pure linguistic institutional fact takes place in the promise or the order. It might be worth considering if the promise or order are the prior intention ( p.i. ), while the future voluntary act is the intention in action ( i.a. ), which of course can only be so in a communicative relationship in an order, because the speaker and the one carrying out the order are different individuals for it, but in the promise the speaker also has the obligation to carry out the future voluntary action, and in this case then, the promise is the promised intention ( p.i. ) for the later intended act ( i.a. ), although other p.i. (s) may certainly play a role.
Note how the assertive could be the X term to which the promise or order, the Y term, could give a new status function as a linguistic act C, and how a certain linguistic act, e.g., could count as, or receive a new status function Y term, as an extra-linguistic institutional fact. This is a crude approximation which needs more specification.
In performatives the proposition seems to receive a new status function because of the illocutionary force, and instead of reflecting reality truly or falsely, it actualizes, becoming the actual state of affairs. The intention X has become the manifestation Y in a new act (linguistically) or institution (extra-linguistically). But this cannot be read from the symbolic notation as such. Searle’s F (p) needs more specification.
Examples of knowing the constitutive rules for an extra-linguistic institution, and not needing to know them for the prophetic or supernatural declaration:
Knowing the constitutive rules for an extra-linguistic institution can be illustrated more extensively, as well as the non-requirement in the case of the supernatural declaration: a justice of the peace, a pastor, a rabbi, or a priest may pronounce a couple husband and wife, after the bride and groom have made their speech-act promises. In some states, the clergy person must be registered and needs to have been sworn in (to abide by the laws of that state). The Catholic Church, technically speaking, will not recognize a marriage not carried out by a priest, and will not honor a divorce, only an annulment, etc. The chairperson of a church assembly may not participate in the discussion on the “floor”, but presides over it, accepts the “motions”, stops the discussion when the “question has been called”, and if the “aye votes have it”, then the motion “carries”, and s/he states: “So ordered.” And an “action” of the assembly/council is communicated to all its members and agencies. The parliamentary rules need to be studied and used skillfully to influence these collective speech act declarations.
In the above cases, the linguistic competence of the speaker and hearer are not sufficient for the successful declaration speech acts, but the position and authority of the speaker and the constitutive rules of the extra-linguistic institution obtain as well. But imagine that a contingent of Native Americans burst into the church with all its delegates are so assembled. They begin charging that a building was being erected by this denomination on an Indian burial ground. Without being on the agenda, without having voice or vote, an eloquent speaker charges the assembly with this institutional insensitivity. Now the speaker does not know the parliamentary rules, does not have voice or vote, nor the authority to speak. Here an approach to Searle’s dictum that a supernatural declaration needs no extra-linguistic institution can be seen functioning in this prophetic moment. A higher authority from God is accepted, and the good will toward the Native Americans felt by the delegates bring about an action in the assembly which orders the building constructed at a different site. With this example a mere inkling of God’s authority appears, which in larger vistas, for the sake of the renewal of all extra-linguistic institutions, can make divine declarations, without any extra-linguistic institution, out of the Word alone, so to speak.
 J. O. Urmson and Marina Sbisá, editors, J. L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words, (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1962), p. 32.
John Searle “The Philosophy of Language.” Lectures. Winter and Spring Semester, (University of California at Berkeley on January 18 to May 2, 1996), on January 18, 1996.
 To pronounce them “man and wife” does an injustice to women, because it places the woman into a role and the man into the dignity of his person. Thus by the first speech act itself the marriage institution is launched with an inequality of privilege and responsibility.
 This scenario is fictitious.
 Solum verbum (the word alone) was an important tenet of the Reformation.
John R. Searle’s definitive article, “How Performatives Work” can be found in the journal, Linguistics and Philosophy. 12 (1989): 535-558.
John R. Searle,. Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969.
————–. The Construction of Social Reality. New York: The Free Press, 1995.
J. O. Urmson and Marina Sbisá, editors. J. L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1962.
The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, July 1, 2012
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Vallejo, California
Genesis 8:6-19 Psalm 30 2 Corinthians 8:7-15 Mark 5: 21-43
The Good News for Women’s Issues
I thank Pastor Barbara Foltin for inviting me to bring you God’s Word for this morning. To echo some of St. Paul’s words in the second lesson, Heaven is filled by the abundance of human insight opposite the great poverty of our own and through the Word of God, Jesus helps us strike a balance. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and that means “awe,” because perfect love casts out fear. The awe we feel before the Most High overcomes us, because God is the source of our lives, our healing, our thoughts, our human compassion, our love, and the source of our wisdom. Through God’s Word may we receive a divine balance, so that the abundance of God’s wisdom offsets our ignorance, our lack of self-knowledge and our knowledge of the human condition, especially that of women. Even today in many fields of medicine, research experiments are oriented around the sicknesses and diseases of men rather than those of women. I’ve read that mostly about heart disease.
The statement by Jesus to the hemorrhaging woman that stood out for me this time was: “Your faith has made you well.” Faith here means that Jesus, our Lord, surrounded himself with a whole environment of trust, hope, love, and compassion. And his faith activated a love that broke every barrier down. Taboos founded on ignorance could no longer stand. People usually err on the side of security and safety, rather than erring on the side of taking the risk to reach out to another person languishing in the despair caused by a disease.
A halo of helpful hope swirled around Jesus and an openness that made a sinner know they could somehow trust him not to reject, but to heal and forgive them. “Your faith has made you well!” Yes, trust is what makes us well; trust in the goodness of God and how good God created a man and a woman to be. Remember how God looked down on Adam and Eve and said: “Behold, they are good. They are very good.” And God made the woman last, meaning that she was even better. Have you ever heard of the book by Ashley Montegue called, The Natural Superiority of Women?
But what happened because of the Fall? Here a woman is shunned and ashamed of her own self. She has been hemorrhaging for 12 years, and she had spent all of her substance on doctors while her condition did not get better, but only worse. The word, “substance” here refers to all her money and possessions. We hope that the Affordable Health Care Act will help us, but today an illness can also cost you a fortune, if they run all kinds of tests and the doctors remain at a loss as to how to treat you. Yesterday the quote of the day in the New York Times had a woman saying, “Right now, it’s scary to get sick; if you don’t die of the sickness, you die when you get the bill.” (NYT, June 6, 2012, A2)
Because of that halo of healing help that swirled all around Jesus, a great crowd always gathered and pressed in all around him. They were helplessly attracted by his love and compassion. A commentary says that Jesus’ disciples had to act like his body guards, but they couldn’t stop this woman, whom the society considered dirty and unclean, from breaking the taboo and touching Jesus, who she knew had healing power. She knew that Jesus would open the way for the compassionate healing of even her most hush-hush and most feminine of problems.
That’s why the crowd pressed in on Jesus like that, to feel the wonderful spirit of renewal streaming out of him, making them helplessly drawn to his attraction. Just think of the way young girls screamed when they were close to the Beatles singing about love. Jesus was a star who did not sing about it but actually campaigned through the country with love, showing people the way of life. People knew that touching him was enough to reset their lives and get them back on course toward their promised fulfillment.
The woman in our story had been having a blood-flow for 12 years. She was shunned and considered unclean, but she broke the taboo and struggled all the way through that crowd saying, “If I only touch his clothes, I’ll be healed.” And despite the disciples trying to keep the people away from Jesus like body guards, she still managed to get in there and touch him. In no way was she passive and resigned.
Jesus had felt something – a power going out of his body. In spite of his disciples and in spite of Jairus there, the dignitary asking Jesus to make an emergency call on his 12 year old daughter, who was dying, Jesus did not desist. “Somebody touched me.”
The woman who had wanted to touch him in stealth and stay invisible, came to him trembling and knelt down before him and told him how her blood-flow had been healed after she touched him – and Jesus blessed her and said, “Your faith has made you well. Go in peace; be healed of your disease.”
Now we hardly speak of women’s periods today. They are not mentioned in polite company, let alone in a sermon in church. But something that had gone wrong with a woman’s period was probably what Jesus was openly discussing and dealing with. Her 12 year blood-flow may have been a tumor or something else, of course, because we do not have a precise diagnosis. But while the society shunned her and called her unclean, with the Holy Spirit, Jesus healed her dreadful disease.
Even in our society today, we don’t like to talk about our bodily functions, many of which we use for swear words and curses. And speaking of curses, I remember how in the old days women would refer to their periods as their curse. The wonderful healing halo around Christ, the positive environment of trust and human compassion around Jesus brings healing even in a place that society wants to hush up and act as if it does not even happen. Meanwhile it takes place 12 months out of every year of a woman’s reproductive life and this woman, whose period continued for 12 years wanted to be as invisible as this regular occurrence in a woman’s life. Mostly, this can still be the case in our society today.
This is a healing story inside a healing story, because Jairus’ daughter – notice how the men are named and the women are not – this 12 year old girl was no longer considered a child. The Gospel of Mark tells secrets with numbers. It is hard to miss that the number 12 comes up for both the woman and the daughter. In those days becoming 12 years old meant she had come of age to be married. And what is left unsaid is that she was suddenly becoming a woman physically, undergoing that marvelous transformation of a woman’s body, which also brings on the first period. I wonder if someone had sat down and explained to the poor girl what was happening to her. Her father, the leader of a synagogue, so holy and righteous, did he and her mother explain what was happening to her? Did they help her cherish the wonderful thing it would be to become a woman, a lover, and a mother?
That positive attitude was not the case in those days, of course. She may well have rather died a child than grow up to live the curse of being a woman and believe you me in many a repressive, woman-hating society, a curse is what it is. Why not rather die than live out a curse for the rest of your life? How many times do you still see parents feeling that the birth of a girl is a disappointment and that of a boy a success? “It’s a man’s world, my sisters used to say.”
But Jesus became a curse up on that cross to change us all, women and men, into blessings. Like a snake, like a serpent lifted up on a pole, Jesus was lifted up on the cross, and in that way, he even changed the notorious Roman instrument of torture and execution into the symbol of the greatest love the world has ever known. If Jesus could do that to the cross, he can also do that for you!
So he reached down and grasped the hand of Jairus’ little daughter and lovingly said, “Talitha cum.” “Little girl, get up!” And she got up in the presence of Christ, in his wonderful environment of trust, hope, love, and compassion. She got up and entered her womanhood, filled with all the promises of God’s blessings.
All of those bodily changes and functions are natural and we dare not place a shunning attitude and negative environment around them. Girls who suddenly experience their physical transformation into womanhood need to understand how precious, how welcome and how beautiful that is and how our society should surround it with respect. It is rough, however, when men, other girls – who can be harsh and judgmental, and society as a whole, suddenly look at you and try to reduce you to a sex object, rather than celebrate the fact that you are a woman and respect you as a person, as a child of God. Our sexuality needs to remain completely in a relationship of love and respect.
We can keep the whole sexual part of our lives in a negative and dark place, which disrespectful and sexist men try shut women into. The women who become locked in that place can become trapped in prostitution, sex trafficking, and men trying to control them for their sexual gratification. Thank God, Jesus also changed some men into blessings.
But probably not many in those days: Believe it or not, Hebrew men prayed, “Thank you God that I was not born a woman!” What a curse men are who make women’s lives into one. Who wants to live a life like that? The Good News is that Jesus changed us all into marvelous blessings, a woman as a blessing for a man and a man as a blessing for a woman, and to top off the blessings that women and men become, God gave us the blessing of children for fathers and mothers to raise.
The Holy Spirit that created the marvelous trust around Jesus is more powerful than all the sexual negativity that is still so rampant in our society today. The Holy Spirit lifted this invisible woman out of a dark place, up into her real self in her wonderful, healthy womanhood and this little child, who had to die to her girlhood, her childhood, could arise and enter the blessing of being a woman of God, full of promise. Why, she could become the president of the United States, even though her becoming a pastor and becoming a proclaimer of the Good News of Jesus Christ is something greater, because we continue the wonderful love story Jesus told with his very life. We don’t have to be pastors of course to do that.
And the love story goes on in the Christian tradition, because many of these healing stories in the New Testament are like medical documents and doctors today continue what Jesus pointed to way back then. To get into the issues women face in Africa is a little too heavy. It would be easy to fill this sermon with horror stories. But doctors from our tradition are in there saving the lives of women just like Jesus did. What women have to go through is a crying shame and the Gospel needs to reach such misogynist societies. Men need to be filled with respect for women. We need the faith that makes us whole women and men together. It is the strong and robust environment of trust and compassion that can make us well. All these women issues should not be put into a dark, shunned, and silent place, as a cover for their unspeakable abuse.
Remember, however, just because women become blessings doesn’t mean that men have to be curses. Men are not evil. Some troubled people feel that the only way they can be good is if the other is bad. I admit that often men still really harass women, who overtake them. But many men are also mature and celebrate mature and successful women; someone like Nora Ephron, who was a journalist, an essayist, script writer, a movie director, and successful in every career and still was in love with a wonderful husband, who celebrated her success.
The Gospel is that Jesus became a curse for us so that we all could become blessings one to another. Blessings are given just before we die. In Genesis you will read how the patriarch’s bless their children before they die. Jesus was ready to die for us and blessed us with Holy Communion just before dying for us on the cross. Blessing is getting out of the way and giving another person the space to grow and unfold. Love is a blessing, and no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. That also means thinking through subjects that are taboo, which fill us with fear and take us to the edge. Some subjects do frighten us to death. But because of the environment of trust, that marvelous healing halo around Jesus, we will not die, but be raised up to live and discover how all God’s promises are true. Amen.