Well, my column is out for the week and my classes are done for the day. This is Holy Week, of course, and for the Orthodox that basically means we live at church. It’s a beautiful time, though hectic. There are so many stories that I want to point out and comment on from the past few days that I don’t even know where to start. I’ll try to catch up.
Ã¢Â€Â¢ The Washington Post ran a wonderful story by Joel Achenbach about a new collection of columns, essays and news stories by the late Michael Kelly, a journalist who was highly sensitive to religious themes and content in the news.
Apparently, Madelyn Kelly keeps finding notes all over the place from her late husband — signs of what he was thinking, what he wanted to write about, perhaps hits at future pieces for Atlantic Monthly. The Post article opens with one such smudged Post-it note in some kitchen papers that said simply: “Death of the 3rd God (Marx/Freud/Darwin).”
Try to imagine that one making it into print.
Ã¢Â€Â¢ The art gods at the New York Times recently got interested in Orthodox iconography, first in a major feature story and then, strangely enough, in a stand-alone editorial. No pun intended, as you will see.
Part of me wanted to cheer. Part of my was totally mystified by what they wrote. For example, what can we make out of this conclusion?
How viewers move through the galleries seems especially striking at “Byzantium” because the exhibition itself abounds in symbolic poses. The 300 years represented in “Byzantium” capture a spiritual and artistic impulse radiating outward from Constantinople, which, after 1261, was again the center of the Orthodox Church. That impulse echoes in image after image from across the Byzantine world. Throughout the galleries, iconic Virgins gesture toward the infants they hold in their arms. The gestures vary, but each specific pose expresses a different state of being, a different projection of authority and grace. It’s as though one could become a different person by choosing to point with the left hand rather than the right.
And there, in front of a 14th-century icon, stands a young woman — a visitor — trying out the open-handed gesture that Mary uses to point to her son. As the young woman adopts that posture her head tilts slightly to mirror the tilt of the Virgin’s head. We are so used to the word “iconic” that we forget how forceful the stylization of actual icons can be. But it isn’t merely the formality of the poses that makes these images iconic. It’s their emotional radiance, the astonishing difference that a hand held this way — or that — can make.
My first reaction is cynicism. Are we supposed to sing along with Madonna (the other one): “Strike a pose”?
Then I stop and think: Am I being fair?
Ã¢Â€Â¢ How lazy can I get? Check out the excellent Christianity Today weblog summary of what the major news magazines are doing this year during Holy Week. What’s the problem? They have already had to put Jesus on the cover during the media blitz for “The Passion of the Christ.” So what’s left? Click here.
But speaking of the Passion, as in the real one, special interest should be paid to David Van Biema’s “Why Did Jesus Die?” feature at Time. Here are the money paragraphs that frame this strong and serious piece:
And what will they take away from this unusual dovetailing of Christ narratives? It’s always dangerous to predict religious behavior, but it seems likely that before traveling into the uplifting realms of Easter Sunday, they will spend a little more time in the dire valley of Good Friday. When the Roman Catholics among them hear the priest recite the verse from Isaiah — “He was wounded for our transgressions … by his stripes we are healed” — they may remember that it was with those words that Gibson commenced his reimagining of the scourging of Jesus. When many Lutherans engage in the meditative adoration of the Cross and when congregants at even the least liturgical Protestant churches sing, “Let the water and the blood/ From Thy wounded side which flowed/ Be of sin the double cure,” they too may more vividly imagine the Cross and the blood. And they all may be more inclined to ponder a question whose answer at first seems as though it should be as simple as “Jesus loves me, this I know” but in fact has divided theologians and clergy for centuries, with no end in sight: Why did Christ die?
That is, not who (on earth) killed him or even exactly how much he suffered. But what was the cosmic reason for his agony? What is its purpose, its divine calculus? How precisely does his death, usually referred to in this context as the atonement, lead to the salvation of humanity?
This is, quite frankly, the kind of highly reflective religion-beat piece that Time once offered all the time. Kudos.
Ã¢Â€Â¢ I think Richard Ostling has decided that the Anglican warfare over sexuality and the sacraments is a GLOBAL, rather than a strictly domestic, news story. Check out this lead from last weekend:
The spokesman for bishops who claim the leadership of a majority of the world’s Anglican Christians denounced the gay rights policies of the Episcopal Church in the United States … after a two-day caucus in Atlanta with U.S. conservatives.
Archbishop Peter Akinola [pictured] said the future of true Anglicanism in the United States lies with conservative groups within the Episcopal Church that oppose gay marriage and the church’s approval of an openly gay bishop.
And who is this man and why does he deserve this kind of play in an Associated Press report?
Akinola leads Nigeria’s Anglican Church, which has 17.5 million members, and the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa, a continent that includes half the world’s 77 million Anglicans. He is also the spokesman for “Global South” archbishops who have severed normal ties with the Episcopal Church.
Ã¢Â€Â¢ Surely this is a sign of the times — on several levels. The British edition of Cosmopolitan has decided that there is more to life (perhaps even eternal life) than sex and credit cards. According to the religion writer at UK Reuters, Tom Heneghan, this is another signal that a shopping-cart approach to “spirituality” is catching on and may even be as important as multiple orgasms:
“I’ve come to the painful realisation that men and shoes are not enough to make me happy,” Hannah Borno, the magazine’s new Spirituality Editor, wrote in the March edition. “The key to true contentment lies elsewhere.” …
As in many other European countries, this new search for spirituality has nothing to do with established religions, which these days attract only a small fraction of the population.
“We’re looking at spirituality rather than organised religion, because that’s where there seems to be a demand from our readers,” Borno explained. “They want something a bit more alternative.”
The article did not address a crucial question: Will this trend affect negotiations in the global Anglican sexuality crisis?
Ã¢Â€Â¢ Now this one is totally silly. I think. Through a cooperative online effort, the Methodist Church in England and the Christian satire site called ship-of-fools.com have selected (sort of) an 11th Commandment. Check out the five winners. So are these actually 11-15?
Thou shalt not worship false pop idols
Thou shalt not kill in the name of any god
Thou shalt not confuse text with love
Thou shalt not consume thine own body weight in fudge
Thou shalt not be negative
You can insert your own wisecrack or alternative commandments at this point.