Sunday 28 April 2013

Doodlings from the dugout

by Kim Fabricius

This Sunday, the sermon – will it be a sacrament of divine disclosure, or a sacrilege of self-deception? There is, of course, no guarantee. And that goes for the eucharist as well.

Last Saturday the theme of Swansea’s most confrontational city-centre evangelist was evolution. The earth, he shouted, is six-and-a-half thousand years old, so why would you believe a newfangled 19th century theory that says man is descended from monkeys? And I thought: what a prodigy of self-refutation: Ecce simius!

I think that we should look more to Cain than to Adam if we want to understand the phenomenology of original sin. Surely the fundamental primal feeling of human beings is not that I have done something wrong but that someone has done something wrong to me – and that I am owed. Hence our rebellion against grace and the challenge of a truly disinterested faith.

That God is a speaker, not a writer, is clear from Genesis 2:18. A writer can never get enough solitude.

“Religion is what one does with one’s solitude.” No, that’s masturbation. Alas, solitude is what people often do with their religion.

In his recent Assholes: A Theory (2013), Aaron James argues that the distinguishing features of the asshole are his entrenched sense of entitlement and his immunization from critique. Add American exceptionalism, and throw in the state of Texas or the city of New York, and the theory has extraordinary explanatory demographic power.

“The poor you will always have with you.” Yes, and the rich too. Not to mention the assholes (Jesus was, after all, responding to Judas in all his sense of self-importance).

Many US citizens seem to keep their baptismal certificates and their passports in the same drawer. The ones that have passports.

Grief, great grief, psalmist grief, pitched-past-pitch-of grief (Hopkins) – it is, literally, overwhelming. Not inner-whelming, it does not just well up, it crashes down with crushing force, dense with affliction. And because this weight drops extra nos, it can only be lifted or borne extra nos. Grief is death at work in the living. Only the one who has rolled away the stone can remove the burden of grief, or at least help us carry the load.

With one voice the British press proclaims that the death of Margaret Thatcher marks the “end of an error”. Or did I mishear?

“It is just this lack of connection to a concern with the truth – this indifference to how things really are – that I regard as of the essence of bullshit.” That’s Harry Frankfurt (in On Bullshit), perfectly articulating my thoughts on the apotheosis of Margaret Thatcher, as the commentariat took leave of its senses. But as an American living in the UK I have not been smug. Déjà vu: I happened to be in the US at the time of the funeral of Ronald Reagan.

Then there was Boston. Bombast and bomb-blast. It was a good week for the principalities and power. Btw, P + P were also observed in Washington hobnobbing with morally and mathematically challenged congressmen – 3 bomb-dead is .0001% of 30,000 annual gun-dead. Finally (barely worth a parenthesis, I know), on the day of the Boston bombing, over 30 people were killed in car-bombings in Iraq.

In Alice Sebald’s The Lovely Bones, the heroine Susie Salmon says, “There wasn’t a lot of bullshit in my heaven.” See I Corinthians 2:9.

The events in a graveyard just outside Jerusalem around 30 CE explain why Christ is Lord of the dance – and the origins of rock-and-roll.

Many thanks to Jason Goroncy at Per Crucem ad Lucem for his heads-up post on David Lipsey’s new biography (and long-awaited retrieval) of Dag Hammarskjöld, Dag Hammarskjöld: A Life, in which he refers to Rowan Williams’ review of the book. Williams mentions Lipsey’s judicious treatment of the issue of Hammarskjöld’s homosexuality. Conclusion: Hammarskjöld might have been gay; on the other hand, he might have been “that most alarming of sexual deviants in twenty-first century eyes, a willing and self-aware celibate.” So much for the old saying that to a Hammarskjöld everything looks like a Niels.

That God might be angry with me doesn’t move me to repentance, but that God might be disappointed with me, even ashamed of me, above all, that he might be saddened, even hurt by me – Dad, I’m so sorry!

There are prayers of praise and petition, prayers of thanksgiving and intercession, prayers of confession and commitment. Big prayers, fine prayers. But God is our friend as well as our Lord, so don’t forget the small-talk, just shooting the breeze (πνεύμα).

The wise know when and when not to give a shit.

Very few people know what the hell they are doing, but staying with that thought for very long is a sure way to paralysis and madness.

He had the kind of OCP that when you met him on the street and said, “Hi. Nice day, isn’t it? How are you?”, he would answer with meteorological and medical reports including temperatures, pressures, and prognostications.

That the good are often worse – much worse – than the bad is rather evident from the gospels. After all, it was a cabal of pastors and politicians, not publicans and prostitutes, that conspired to kill Jesus. Which is why I take Luke 5:32 to be one of our Lord’s more ironic statements.

In Luke, Jesus dies the serene death of the proto-martyr. In John, Jesus dies with an exclamation of conclusive triumph. And many apologists place the cry of dereliction in Mark and Matthew in the context of the affirmative ending of Psalm 22 (a truly Christological hermeneutic would reverse the framing). No, Jesus dies with a woeful wail in absolute despair, identifying with our own experiences of God-forsakenness, precisely so that utter hopelessness henceforth becomes an impossible possibility. And God is silent – until Sunday. The unassumed is the unhealed.

Here is the difference between envy and jealousy: I am envious of the dead; I am jealous of the living.

Why, when I visit people with severe dementia, do I feel that I should take off my shoes? Why this sense of the holy, of the divine presence? (Which, I suggest, makes sense of the world’s strategic way of dealing with the aged-demented by clinical ostracism and senicide: it materially focusses the marginalisation and death of God.) It can’t be just their helplessness and powerlessness, a diminishment they share with the gravely frail and disabled. No, I think it is the fact that they simply are, that they live in a kind of eternal now. Does that make sense?

I turn 65 in October and become a pensioner. Several colleagues have spoken to me about the difficulties of retirement, particularly their manifold feelings of dislocation and loss – the painful withdrawals from their intimate family of faith, from their role as local leader, and from their sense of pastoral neededness. So I will no longer be the Reverend Fabricius, I’ll just be Kim. In fact, however, that’s all I’ve ever been – just Kim. No, the real angst of retirement is that it prefigures your expirement. It is the vocation of ministers to teach the art of dying. Physician, heal thyself.

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