25 June 2013

The Offerorty and the Kiosk

A recent (satirical) post over at Stuff Christian Culture Likes got me thinking about how wrong-headed we are about the Offertory. This post started off as a series of Facebook posts and, eventually, I realized it should be re-edited into something a bit more coherent. I owe a great deal of thanks to my liturgy professor, L. Edward Phillips, my Eucharistic theology professor, Ted Hackett, and to James K.A. Smith and Simon Chan for helping clarify my thoughts in this area over the past year.
Ok, I get that these things might be practical (just like online giving, I guess). Sure, the clergy does need health insurance and a living wage (and yes, seminary loans are expensive, but don't get me started on the education system...). If it helps, it helps. I question, though, the wisdom (specifically, lack there of) in separating the Offertory from the Holy Eucharist. The money (et al) that we give accompanies the bread and wine, God's own gifts which we return in thanksgiving, as our participation in the Kingdom of God (over and against the earthly city-state). The Offering is an act of participation in the Holy Meal (which is why, historically, Christians sent forth food, not cash), not the divine banking system.

Let me rephrase. It's less the separation of the Offertory from the Blessed Sacrament and more the substitution of the former for the latter. The sustenance, sanctification, and continuing salvation of the Church is in the Body of Christ (especially in as much as it makes us into the Body of Christ), not the image of our various Caesars.

Especially in as much as the Table of our Risen Lord is a place where all are welcome, be they Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free, white or blue collar, banker or janitor, wealthy or impoverished. The Offertory isn't about squeezing every available dime through holy ATMs and consecrated iPhone apps. It is about redistributing the gifts of Christ's Church to those in need. Our blessed Church fathers and mothers weren't concerned with building campaigns, worship expenditures, or the bishop's salary. They were looking after the widow, the virgin, and the orphan. The gifts returned in the Offertory were consecrated for the service of those in need.

The Eucharist is, even today, an act of rebellion against an economy of consumption. The ecclesia (assembly) sends forth its gifts (the Offering, including the bread and wine to be consecrated) that they might be given to the Church for the support of all. Communion is, by default, communal. To remove the Offertory from the Feast is to deny its original role in service to those in need. Worse still, to so completely divorce the Offertory from the Eucharist is to marry it to the very consumerist society to which it is inherently subversive.
For more, see James KA Smith's Cultural Liturgies series (especially Part II of Imagining the Kingdom) and Ed Phillip's forth-coming work on God and Wealth, an examination of the ritualization of monetary offerings in place of the Eucharist.

Grace + Peace

07 June 2013

Soul-Body Dualism and Sacramental Theology

About a week ago, I put forward some thoughts on death and Fundamentalism's Gnostic tendencies, suggesting that the Fundamentalist view of death (especially as expressed in Grudem's Systematic Theology) tends towards an ancient heresy. In reading James K.A. Smith's Imagining the Kingdom (appropriate as it was in reading Smith's Desiring the Kingdom that I got the idea for the original post), though, I noticed a further connection: Fundamentalist adherence to mind/soul-body dualism detrimentally shapes their sacramental theology.

Smith's project is a philosophical anthropology that explains human desire and imagination (thus, the books' titles) in relation to worship and education as Christian formation. In Imagining, he suggests (by way of Pierre Bordieu) that practice arises from between the intellect and instinct. We are not merely thinking things rationally contemplating every single action nor are we merely automatons driven by biological hard-wiring -- though both intellectual rationality and biological impulse do come into play. Instead, we are shaped by who we tell ourselves that we are and what we do (and what we practice doing). Nowhere is this more obvious than in how we worship. Liturgy (be it the strict rubrics of the Roman rite, the general ordo of contemporary megachurches, or reciting the Pledge of Allegiance before class everyday) asks us to participate in a story -- both in the mind and in body -- that tells us who we are.

In chapter two of Imagining, Smith looks at what Bourdieu calls "the religion of the knights": physical postures when swearing fidelity to the feudal lord, placing hands on holy things (crosses, Gospel books, relics) and reciting a ritual creed. Bodily position and action was of the utmost importance. (One sees immediate connection to the importance of manual action in Eucharistic celebrations.) Smith says:
It's not that the knights were insincere or "didn't mean it;" such concerns about sincerity are still operating with a dualism that assumes we "go through" rituals because "inside" we first believe something -- that rituals externally "express" some prior, mental interiority. But that fails to recognize (and honor) the integrity and irreducibility of the logic of practice.
And for those of you who have spent any time around Baptists or "non"-denominational Christians will hear an echo. Most Christians with Baptist leanings think of Holy Baptism as an outward sign or expression of an inward change. The same dualism that says the soul can live without a body, is somehow the true person, leads to a belief that Christian initiation is fulfilled in a purely cognitive act.* In such a view, ritual washing as initiation is just an outward sign (and, in its least orthodox iteration, can be performed multiple times).

What Smith is suggesting, however, and what has real traction for the "High" Church traditions, is that what we do with our bodies is part of what we do with our minds and souls. Baptism (or swearing an oath on holy relics or consuming the Eucharist) actually does something to us -- to our true selves. Baptism (and all worship) is not just expressing with our body what we are thinking with our minds or believing with our souls. Smith and Bordieu say that such physical actions are "enacted belief" (though embodied gets more to the heart of the matter). As Smith puts it, "Ritual is the way we (learn to) believe with our bodies." The action itself is a way in which we believe, in which we are shaped into who God calls us to be, and in which we are drawn into the Kingdom.

Grace + Peace
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*Here I say cognitive because whether the dualism is mind-body or soul-body, it's still the same thing. The view puts a barrier between the true self that thinks and believes and the physical flesh. Same thing, different language. This is, of course, not a universally accepted view; some place a separation between mind and soul as well. However, in the intellectualist view as well as the Fundamentalist, mind and soul serve as the respective location of the "true" self, and thus I think we can easily (at least, for this conversation) use the term with some accuracy.