Category Archives: Rene Girard

38th day of Lent. Holy Thursday.

Tonight did something I’ve only done a handful of times in the last six years. I sat as a member of the community in my church. I didn’t cantor. I didn’t sing with the choir. I was simply present as a participating member. Sweets nudged me during the opening hymn and said, “Dad, do you have to sing so loud?” I wondered for a moment, “Am I singing too loudly?” I thought of the time when a choir member approached me after Mass and invited me to sing with them. “I could hear you,” she said. “You have a nice voice.” Sweets was probably right. I adjusted. Slightly. I love to sing, and she knows that. That’s why there are rules. Later in the service, she caught me keeping the beat with my index finger, and grabbed it. “Daaaad” she said softly. I smiled. I miss those moments.

When Sweets was small I’d always make sure that I have a notebook with me. At church I’d give it her to draw pictures in, or if the homily wasn’t interesting, use to play a game of hangman with her. Do I owe someone an apology? I think God understood. Besides my answers were always part of a verse from one of the day’s readings. As Sweets has grown I don’t have that same use for a notebook. And since I don’t sit in a pew during the service, the only way we might play hangman is with our cell phones. It’s not going to happen.

One of the things I noticed tonight is it wasn’t just nice to sit with my daughter during the liturgy. It was nice to be with everyone else that was there also. At one point Sweets leaned over to tell me that she noticed our mailman was present. I’d never seen him out of uniform. I saw bunches of people I knew. Among them, two children of one friend had their feet washed. The mother-in-law of another friend did as well. Every time I see her I wonder if I’ll ever remember her name. I saw the brother-in-law of a friend, and the mother of another. I’ve watched two of the altar servers grow from boys to young men. After the service I made a point of saying hello to the organist, who chatted with Sweets for a few minutes. In the sacristy, I stood with my hand on the shoulder of our deacon, because he’s a lovely guy, and I was happy to see him. There’s something nice about finding home in your church.

The weekly liturgy usually ends with the words similar to, “The Mass has ended, go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” Tonight we ended in silence, or tried to. I wanted to talk to everyone. A number of other folks did too. I didn’t hear anyone being quieted, and I’m sure some of the talking had to do with giving folks information about the pilgrimage bus rides to seven other local churches. The community who’d shouted “Crucify him!” on Sunday, having eaten the flesh of the one we’d cast out, was united. This is the wonder of the Eucharist. I thought of the way Sebastian Moore ponders in The Contagion of Jesus, whether the Church made a mistake in emphasizing the word “is” in “This is my body” (p.52). Doing that drew the focus towards what was happening on the altar, and encouraged related theories which attempted to harness a mystery that is a liturgical action. The Eucharist is Jesus, our victim, coming into our midst and saying “I know you thought you had to do that to me. You don’t have to do it to anyone. I forgive you. I give my life to you. Now take it and go. Trust each other. Love each other. Be with each other. You are going to do far greater things than I ever did.”

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37th day of Lent. God, the Divine Drano, pt 2.

I love that image of God as the divine Drano, pouring over us crystals of love so our hearts and souls can run clear. It isn’t pretty, but it has a certain clarity. So where we started is the ancient rite of Atonement wasn’t about appeasing God as part of a sort of wrath-prevention movement. Instead it was about God as Love coming to us so that we could experience the fullness of creation. If that’s the case, how did we get to a place where a lot of Christians respond with a “yes” to the question Tony Jones asks in his new book: Did God Kill Jesus?

The way most of us understand the story, Alison says, goes like this:

“God was angry with humanity; Jesus says, “Here am I”; God needed to loose a lightning rod, so Jesus said, “You can loose it on me”, substituting himself for us. Boom: lightning rod here: sacrifice: God happy. “Got my blood-lust out of the way!””

That rendering is a little sassy, but I think you recognize the rendering. Tony Jones points out that looking at the atonement through this lens in our culture, makes sense:

“And the Payment view of the atonement . . . is popular now because it accords with our modern sensibilities. We live in the most litigious society in the history of humankind, so it makes sense to us to think that when a crime has been committed, a person must “pay their debt to society.” That sense of justice appeals to us. But that’s not how God works. That’s us imposing our ideas of justice on God.”

What’s also lost, Alison reminds us, is the purpose of the original rite of Atonement. Here he draws a line from the rite’s original purpose, to Jesus. Don’t worry about understanding each phrase or sentence. If you can see the connection, globally, for my purposes here, that’s all you need to do.

“Creation is not finished until Jesus dies (shouting tetelestai — it is accomplished), thus opening the whole of creation, which consequently begins fully, in a completely new way, in the garden on the first day of the week. This means, and here is the central point: we understand creation starting from and through Jesus. God’s graciousness which brings what is not into existence from nothing is exactly the same thing as Jesus’ death-less self-giving out of love which enables him to break the human culture of death, and is a self-giving which is entirely fixed on bringing into being a radiantly living and exuberant culture. It is not as though creation were a different act, something which happened alongside the salvation worked by Jesus, but rather that the salvation which Jesus was working was, at the same time, the fulfillment of creation. This was the power and the authority in Jesus’ works and words and signs. Through him the Creator was bringing his work to completion. The act of creation was revealed for what it really is: the bringing to existence and the making possible of a human living together which does not know death; and Jesus was in on this from the beginning. Such is our world that God could only be properly perceived as Creator by means of the overcoming of death. (p. 54-55)

I’m not going to put a bow on that quote. It does a lot on its own. Good night.

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35th day of Lent. Attempting Clarity.

I thought I’d go back to the beginning of my last post, and try to do a better job of spelling out what I was trying to do there. Since I start these late at night–for example, I’m beginning this one a few minutes after midnight–the late hour in a way limits my ability to polish these. With polish comes clarity. That said, since it’s after midnight, this might not be much clearer. Caveats. There are always caveats.

Anyway I started by juxtaposing a sampling of hot button issues which I purposely tried to present in the way someone who believed whatever side they did, would recognize. The examples are limited, yes. There are rarely only two sides to any issue. Still, one of the things that keeps us from being able to have civic dialogue in the U.S. is that we reduce too many issues to two views. We’re very black and white, very either-or that way. It limits our ability to hold an opposite view to our own with any regard. Recently in conversation, a friend of mine told me that she’s taken to staying silent, rather than hear another friend say a version of “how can you believe that?” Hearing her say that I thought of  Carol Gilligan, and a quote that I think is from her book In a Different Voice, where she said: “The hardest times for me were not when people challenged what I said, but when I felt my voice was not heard.” There’s no greater treasure than a person’s voice. We’re shutting each other down. Shutting each other out, and in what might be a greater sin, we demonize those who hold views opposite our own.

Why do we do that? As I said a few weeks ago, I like the anthropology of René Girard and his ideas about Mimetic Rivalry. Girard, says that desire is mimetic. People want what they see others as already having. The whole idea of the need to “keep up with the Joneses” points to this. You’re driving a seven year old car in great shape, and that you’re perfectly happy with. One day you see your neighbor has purchased a new car. What happens next? You start wondering if you should get one too. Before your neighbor made their purchase, you had no need. Suddenly you do. That’s what he means.

At a social level this rivalry can get so heated that it leads to violence. Of course, your new found desire for a new car that you may not be able to afford may not lead to more than an argument with your spouse, or your boss about your pay. Then again, there are bunches of ways the story of Cain and Abel can play out in our society. To avoid social violence, Girard says, societies developed the “scapegoat” mechanism as a relief valve. That’s why you see in many early religions that an innocent victim is chosen, and after the sin of the community is assigned to them, and they’re sacrificed. It’s under the guise of appeasing the gods/God, but what’s really happening is that the pressure towards violence is released.

Since Liberals scapegoat Conservatives, and Conservatives scapegoat Liberals–that’s how badly things have degenerated–it’s almost impossible to recognize that a person who holds a view different or opposite from our own has come to hold it as true through a process that is as genuine, honest, and legitimate as the way we’ve come to hold true what we do. We can’t get there. At the same time, there is common ground.

Here’s when I made the leap that’s hard to do because we’re entrenched the way we are. While we may not be able to see a view opposite our own has having value–that’s where the phrase “morally equivalent” comes in–this week in Christian circles we’re all, Conservatives, Liberals, Green, Libertarian, Black, White, rich and poor Christians are celebrating the murder of Jesus in the celebration of Easter.

For Christian theologians–and regular folk like myself–what makes Easter transforming, is that Jesus becomes the scapegoat of everyone. That’s where shouting “Crucify him” as we read the Passion is an act that can help us get in touch with the way we we’re still scapegoating people, and cultures different than our own. That’s a hard thing to grasp. You might say, I’m not doing that. I can’t see that. It’s at this point that I think invoking Matthew 25 is appropriate:

41 Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ 44 Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ 45 He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’

Anyway. It’s one. I’m running on fumes. I hope that’s a little clearer. Tomorrow if I’m lucky I’ll dive a little deeper with the idea of Jesus as the scapegoat who forgives us. It’s a very different way of thinking about atonement. It’s a way–despite the way the passage I just mentioned reads–without an angry God.

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