Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Mazes - they're not just topography anymore

Mrs. Schori has delivered her Christmas message to the Episcopal Church, and frankly, it gives me the creeps.

Not because of the theme - it's standard Advent/Christmas boilerplate: "Jesus was born in poverty and obscurity, and so we see him in the poor and the unfortunate, etc. etc." I've heard the same thing countless times in Anglican and Catholic churches. As these things go, it's pretty unobjectionable, except for the now-traditional pigheaded insistence on describing Mary and Joseph as "homeless". As Mark Steyn has so brilliantly said, "For Pete's sake, they weren't homeless — they couldn't get a hotel room. They had to sleep in the stable only because Dad had to schlep halfway across the country to pay his taxes in the town of his birth, which sounds like the kind of cockamamie bureaucratic nightmare only a blue state could cook up."

No, what's creepy is that it's so disturbingly incoherent. Chris Johnson says it sounds a bit dashed off at the last moment; to me it sounds like it was written on the back of an ATM receipt after a late-night booze-up. I went and read the whole thing, thinking that maybe Chris, that sly dog, had deliberately picked out an awkward passage, and the rest of it was alright. But no, it's only 2 paragraphs long.

The problem is that the logic disintegrates every few lines, and it's a bad sign when a person can't write logically for a mere couple of paragraphs.
In what form will you find the Christ child this year? The fact of the Incarnation in a weak and helpless babe says something significant about where we focus our search. I am convinced that it is part of our call to exercise a "preferential option" on behalf of the poor, weak, sick, and marginalized.
Excellent. I understand that. Then,
The long arc of biblical thinking and theologizing has to do with seeing God's care for those who have no other helper. Indeed, Jesus is understood as that helper for all who fail, by the world's terms, to save themselves. More accurately, we understand that Jesus is that helper for all.

What does this mean, exactly? Could someone relate it to some actual examples? Job? Hagar in the desert? The Israelites at the Red Sea? John the Baptist in prison? Is she talking about miraculous deliverances, or just a vague sense that God's always there, no matter how bad things are? And what is "Jesus is understood as that helper for all who fail, by the world's terms"? The passive tense doesn't help make it any clearer. Helper to do what? Helper in what way? The Son of God seems to be diluted down to a reliable shoulder to cry on, as is God. I can sort of understand the idea of failure by the world's terms, but is she saying that the WORLD sees Jesus as a sort of crutch for losers who can't succeed in tangible ways? I really don't know just WHO understands Jesus as WHAT for WHOM.

"Jesus is that helper for all." Well, OK. That's clear enough - we finally seem to be back on solid Christian ground.

But trying to map out paragraph 2 logically is impossible. It should be easy; it's "How might we begin to see that child in those around us". What follows is a series of linkages, and they're even formatted so you can follow - an example followed by the parallel example in parentheses. So let's see how well this works:

1. "strangers and aliens (both Immanuel and Immigrants)" - OK, so it looks like the plan is to balance a "present-day" example with a Bible example. "Strangers and aliens" are "those around us", and they match up with "Immanuel and Immigrants". Immigrants? As in Mary and Joseph? Maybe.

2. "wanderers (Homeless, like Mary and Joseph, for whom there was no room)" - This should follow the same pattern; "wanderers" around us, remind us of Mary and Joseph, who were NOT homeless, but we've already dealt with that.

3. "widows and orphans (Social Outcasts)" - now, wait a minute. Where's the balance between the two stories? "Widows and orphans" vs. "Social Outcasts"? What social outcasts? Where? Who were the social outcasts in the Nativity story? The shepherds? Or did the formatting switch? Are the "Social Outcasts" those around us today, and the "widows and orphans" are the Biblical parallel? But then this doesn't relate to the Nativity story at all. This makes no sense, and the eccentric capitalizing doesn't help.

4. "babe born in Bethlehem (Palestinian and Israeli alike; or the boy babies whom both Pharaoh and Herod sought to kill)" - Aaaarrghhh. Now the two categories have switched places; we called this the chassé-croisé when I studied translation. Now we're STARTING with the Biblical example instead of the modern-day example. Alright, then, we'll start with the "babe born in Bethlehem", and that's balanced by the Palestinian and Israeli children who are presently in danger in the Middle East. Oh, no, though, we're not done yet: "or the boy babies whom both Pharaoh and Herod sought to kill". Now wait a minute; this drags in a Biblical example into the category of what we're supposed to be seeing around us today. Totally incoherent - just another idea too good to leave out, stuffed in wherever space could be found.

5. "divine feeder of thousands (Soup Kitchen worker)" - we've moved a little quickly away from the Nativity story; Jesus won't be feeding the multitudes for many years, and I thought the idea was to focus on his vulnerability. Plus I don't find the parallel all that compelling in this case, though maybe Soup Kitchen worker's capitalization is a way of making the contest more equal.

6. "and savior of the world (Peacemaker, Bringer of Justice for All, Reconciler, Just and Gracious Lawgiver...)" - by this point the parallel linkage system has broken down altogether. There's NO "this world" candidate to match up against the "savior of the world", though maybe I'm just confused. I thought we were talking about Jesus here, but maybe it's Hillary Clinton.

Compare and contrast this with last year's Christmas message. Last year's is on a similar theme, but it flows logically and smoothly. What's happened this year? I suspect that Mrs. Schori's mind is on something else this time around.


Blogger Matthew said...

I prefer the booze up theory. If I actually thought she binged from time to time, I'd think a lot better of her. Unfortunately she seems to be one of those grim, prim self-improving types.

8:47 pm  
Blogger Kasia said...

Last year's is actually pretty decent, if you take out the bit about Mary and Joseph being refugees. I like it.

This year's...not quite so much. :-p

12:40 pm  
Blogger Dr. Mabuse said...

That last year's message was criticized for being frivolous (the Santa Claus reference), but this year we see how bad things CAN be, and it looks pretty good by comparison.

This lady has some good thoughts on the quality of preaching nowadays, particularly this: "True preaching today is hard to find. We hear, instead, "evocative" (Will Willimon's word) addresses that create a mood--a "dreamy" mood in this case. Or we hear harangues."

Schori's Christmas message is very much in the "evocative" mode. Halfway through the second paragraph, the verbs just disappear. Instead, she opts for a sort of image montage, sort of like shifting shapes in smoke.

11:20 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This may partially account for why it's discordant - she starts off with the 'weak and helpless baby Jesus' imagery. Then she talks of seeing (baby) Jesus in various kinds people that we're to help... but the passage that most closely identifies Jesus with those we are called on to help is Matthew 25, and there the imagery seems to suggest what we would "see" is Jesus as wrongfully persecuted adult - the saccharine baby imagery is being forced into a place where it doesn't quite fit.

Then in 5 and 6 (as you note) the subject just shifts from Jesus representing those who suffer, to recognizing his sanctification in people.

I dunno. Maybe if Peter were alive today he'd say 2 Pe 3:16 applies to Schori as well. The Delphic Schoricle.

9:23 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Face it, Doc, Kate's just trying to hustle the Holy Family into one of today's trendy victim classes so the Millenium Development Goals can be dragged out as the panacea. Then she and her club can congratulate themselves on the idea that they'd have had a non-smoking unit with a king size on the first floor for Joe, Mary and the baby Hay-Zoos (being ethnically sensitive and all).


10:04 pm  

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