’Tis the season . . . to be penitent

taco-bell-lent_0previewToday is Ash Wednesday. In the Western Christian calendar, it is the first day of Lent. It occurs 40 days (not counting Sundays) before Easter and begins the most sacred part of the Christian year. It’s probably known mostly for the imposition of ashes on the forehead, a custom that aims to remind Christians of their complete sinfulness and mortality. They’re made in the sign of the cross to direct Christians to the necessity of Christ’s suffering and death for their salvation.

For liturgical churches, Lent is a season of penitence, reflection and prayer. Worship is solemn and restrained. Songs of praise and “alleluias” are removed from the liturgy until Easter. And Christians in these traditions engage in fasting, special almsgiving (charity) and increased prayer as special disciplines to focus the mind on Christ.

Of all the various aspects of Ash Wednesday and Lent, the aspect the mainstream media usually seem most interested in is fasting.

On its religion blog, the Dallas Morning News asked readers what they’re doing for Lent. So did the Chicago Tribune, with some interesting and amusing responses. Here’s the St. Louis Post-Dispatch‘s version. The Austin American-Statesman mentioned Lent on its religion blog. And the religion editor of the Telegraph (U.K.) notes the Church of England’s Lenten Twitter campaign with a request that they “tweet” Holy Week from the perspective of Jesus Christ.

As for actual stories, I didn’t see too many, although more might be found throughout the day. The Columbia Missourian looked at how area Christians are marking Lent and introduced that with a description of Lent. Here’s the lede:

After a weekend of carnival and Mardi Gras festivities, Christians, Catholics and Methodists participate in a 40-day period of repentance and humility known as Lent. Ash Wednesday begins this season of repentance; it concludes with the celebrations of Easter Sunday.

Christians, Catholics and Methodists? That’s quite a ragtag group of people. I wonder if this means Catholics and Methodists are not considered Christian by the paper and I also wonder who gets included under the Christian umbrella. Just some odd writing there.

Still, the story gets into much more detail than most stories on the matter:

The 40 days are reminiscent of the 40 days Jesus walked through the desert, the 40 days Noah was on the ark, and the 40 years Moses spent in the desert, all references found in Scripture. Christians take this time to focus on Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection by fasting from worldly obsessions.

Along with fasting, Ash Wednesday consists of praying, worshiping and almsgiving. The Rev. Simon Felix Michalski, associate pastor at the St. Thomas More Newman Catholic Center, said fasting is done to discover more depth and seriousness to the purpose of life, and to spiritually prepare for Easter Sunday, the resurrection of Christ.

“The reason we start on Ash Wednesday is to get the 40 days in because Sundays don’t count during Lent,” Michalski said. “We never fast on Sundays because Sundays are a celebration of the Resurrection. In order to get 40 days in before Easter, we start Lent on a Wednesday.”

On Ash Wednesday, ashes derived from the palm branches of the previous year, are placed upon the worshippers’ foreheads in the sign of a cross to represent mortality, sorrow and repentance. The ashes are burned and blessed by clergy before use.

Religion teacher Joshua Brumfield, who teaches at Archbishop Shaw High School in New Orleans, explained that the ashes are seen as a sign of acknowledgment of the sacrifice of Christ’s death, recognizing that Christ’s forgiveness comes at an infinite price to allow worshipers to realize the consequences of sin.

Another story worth pointing out comes from the Salt Lake Tribune about how Protestant groups are increasingly marking Lent:

Uintah — On Ash Wednesday, Pastor Mark Hladek will gather his congregation — Crossroads Christian Fellowship — together to begin the 40 days of Lent.

Church members will fast that day, which Hladek hopes will remind them of their hunger for God, and they will pray for physical, emotional or spiritual healing. Hladek will ask the congregation to pray and spend more time in Bible study and to set aside a small sum each day during Lent.

“It will be a season for building our hope and expectation in the Lord, culminating in our Easter celebration,” Hladek said.

That his church, which is associated with the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, is observing Lent at all is a surprise.

Long the province of the Catholic, Orthodox, Episcopalian, Lutheran and Presbyterian churches, Lent — a period of penitence, fasting and almsgiving — has always been regarded by many Protestants, particularly Evangelicals, as ritualistic or extra-Biblical.

The story doesn’t really substantiate the claim that Protestants are increasingly practicing Lent with anything other than anecdotes but it’s interesting none the less.

Do let us know if you see any particularly good or bad Ash Wednesday/Lent stories today.

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New York gets safe shepherd (apparently)

dolan3072602Guess what? The new leader of the Catholic Archdiocese of New York is Catholic enough to make the college of cardinals at the New York Times a bit miffed at his appointment, but flexible and corporate enough not to make the Gray Lady mad. I’m shocked, shocked, how about you?

There’s all kinds of coverage of this appointment to the top slot in the American hierarchy and most of it pivots on one crucial detail. Archbishop Timothy Dolan is a conservative, but he has not — so far — punished mainstream Democrats and progressive Republicans who openly oppose their church’s teachings on abortion, the sacrament of marriage and other hot-button cultural issues. So relax, things could be worse.

Here’s the top of a feature profile by Michael Powell in the pages of holy writ:

MILWAUKEE – For a few deeply unpleasant days, the Rev. David Cooper found himself in the crosshairs of the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

It was 2003, and the priest had opined to a reporter that women should be ordained. Faraway bishops rumbled about censure. Then he picked up the telephone and heard the baritone of Milwaukee’s archbishop, Timothy Michael Dolan. Father Cooper immediately offered to resign.

No, no, the archbishop replied, we just need to repair the damage. “He was very pastoral and caring,” Father Cooper recalled. And how was it resolved? “Oh, I agreed to recant,” he said. “He effectively silenced me.”

The kind of silencing that ends up at the top of a Times report, obviously. What we have here is a corporate Catholic response to a doctrinal issue and similar actions can be found throughout the piece. Dolan knows how to stay on the high wire between Rome and the American powers that be. He believes the right things, for Rome, but does not act on them.

Thus, the Times does not quite know what to do with him. As a result, the profile is downright strange at times. The goal, it seems, is to portray the future cardinal as a jolly lightweight. Read on:

Archbishop Dolan hails from American Catholicism’s now-dominant conservative wing, which has grown stronger and more assertive during the past decade. Under his predecessor, Rembert G. Weakland, the Milwaukee archdiocese had a national reputation as a liberal Catholic outpost, where debate about doctrine was vociferous and to be gloried in. Many Catholics predicted a theological war upon the arrival of the new bishop. This did not materialize.

Obedient soldier of Rome though many say he is, Archbishop Dolan remains more politician than ideologue. He has not joined the American bishops who barred Catholic politicians who favor abortion rights from taking holy communion. And, with a notable exception or two, he has declined to ferret out the liberals in his midst. … (He) warned, there are a few — like Daniel C. Maguire, the Catholic theologian and professor at Marquette University, in Milwaukee — who favor abortion rights and are “so radically outside church teaching that his appearance at any parish would be a grave scandal.”

You know what is going to happen after reading that paragraph, don’t you? Out of all of the possible priests and scholars to consult about Dolan’s standing in the church, who do you think is going to be the one person who gets to cast judgment on the archbishop?

You got it. It seems that Dolan is not known as:

… a particularly sophisticated theologian; his homilies are homespun, often touching on baseball and football before turning to the importance of Christ as savior. … (M)any priests say he lacks the lyricism and textual insight of a great homilist.

“He is no theologian,” said Professor Maguire, the Marquette theologian banned from speaking on archdiocesan property. “He is in keeping with church policy that theologians are to listen and obey. It turns theology into a form of magic, expertise without study.”

Notice that “many priests” believe he is a second-rate preacher. Thus, we get to hear from exactly one of them — one of the rare liberals that this very low-key conservative ruled out of bounds. A nice touch, don’t you think? Oh, and this non-theologian used to run the American seminary in Rome.

Once again, what the piece needs is diversity, a wider range of voices across the Catholic spectrum. American Catholicism includes all kinds of thinkers and activists. The Times needed to talk to more of them.

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Spilling more Anglican ink

spilled_ink1When discussing the Anglican wars, one of GetReligion’s mantras is that reporters must struggle — even in short stories — to place these events in the context of church structures at the local, regional-diocesan, national and global levels.

That’s the bad news.

The problem for reporters is that things are going to get even more complex in the very near future. The structures are all changing and are, frankly, becoming even more confusing and harder for outsiders to understand (and cover in mainstream media).

Why is that? It helps to note that the U.S. Episcopal hierarchy tends to be very liberal when it comes to traditions about doctrine, but almost fundamentalist when it comes to traditions about power and ecclesiastical structure. Meanwhile, the people running the emerging conservative structures are very strict about ancient doctrines, but many of them lean to more open, congregational, even megachurch approaches to church life.

So this brings me to a story unfolding down in the Treasure Coast region of South Florida. Here’s the top of the report from the Vero Beach Press Journal:

To Christ Church officials, the Rev. Lorne Coyle was a guiding light in their quest for adherence to conservative Biblical views, church leaders say.

Then two weeks ago came the married minister’s admission of an affair — prompted by an out-of-state woman going to Coyle’s Anglican bishop in Virginia.

“It is a shock,” said Christ Church’s lay leader, senior warden Jim Reamy III.

The bishop suspended Coyle, effective Feb. 1, quickly followed by Coyle’s resignation from the church. The independent church was expanding in the wake of Coyle’s leadership in the congregation’s breaking off from the Episcopal Church — a national denomination that Reamy said strayed from a belief that marriages should only unite a man and a woman.

So many readers are going to want to know: Why does this South Florida priest have a bishop who is located in Virginia? And if it’s an “independent” church, why does it have a bishop in the first place?

I think there is a good chance that some copy was trimmed out of the story at this point, because an earlier Elliott Jones report had included key details about the identity of the bishop and the fact that this conservative congregation is now part of an alternative Anglican structure, with ties to the Anglican Church of Uganda.

I really feel for the reporters and editors. However, things are getting really complicated. Readers can’t figure out what’s going on when asked to make the following leap:

Last year, members of the 400-member congregation left Trinity Episcopal Church, one of Vero Beach’s largest, oldest churches and began to worship in a renovated former tax collector’s office on U.S. 1.

Then Coyle’s Anglican bishop intervened. This week, a bishop’s investigator is to be in Vero Beach interviewing Coyle and others. In the interim, Coyle is banned from having contact with the church or its members. The bishop isn’t commenting about the investigation.

As I once wrote, in a column about an Episcopal scandal in the cathedral in Denver: “Sin and ink will always be a volatile mix.” Sadly that is true in all kinds of churches. Reporters need to know that, these days, there are all kinds of complications on both sides of the Anglican-Episcopal divide. Be careful out there.

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A faith dispute goes public

maincollage1The Akron Beacon Journal published quite a story Sunday that touches on issues with which many families struggle, but so rarely do they spill out into the public square. In this case, a family’s personal controversy over the child’s decision to join a non-denominational Christian group known as the Xenos Christian Fellowship created a story that the newspaper could not ignore.

The article could have been limited to the police and court reports, but instead, the newspaper published an epic 2,700-word news feature:

Annemarie Smith, 48, a Roman Catholic from Stow, believes her 18-year-old son, Thomas, has been taken by a cult.

She has launched a religious war that has engaged the Stow police, mayor, high school and a municipal judge. She started an Internet blog and is trying to rally others to the cause.

Online, she makes allegations of alcohol abuse, vandalism and brainwashing of young children. She calls the church leader and his family “Devil man,” “Devil wife” and “Devil son.”

While the article leads with the perspective of the mother, it makes clear early and often that there is definitely another side to the story. Readers are left deciding for themselves which side has more validity. The journalists’ job of avoiding the temptation to take sides, or to make individual judgments, can twist a story into an appellate brief designed to convince the jury of readers of certain morality judgments that have no place in news features such as these.

The mother’s accusation that her son has joined a cult goes a bit deeper than that, but the article captures it well:

His mother, a stay-at-home mom, said she had no problem with her children occasionally attending church with friends — and she believes her son’s attraction to Xenos is more about friends than God.

The tension grew exponentially after Thomas’ roadside reckoning and an announcement to his parents that he planned to be baptized again, this time at a Xenos service, and that he would like for them to attend.

They told him he already had been baptized Catholic and they would not attend.

The article totally gets the faith aspect of the story and leads with it in the article’s subhead. The article’s grasp of the importance of faith to these individuals and all that comes with that helps the author explain to the reader some of the more difficult-to-grasp concepts present in this saga.

The story gets much darker, with a few twists and turns, and one has to wonder how this can end well. One criticism that could be leveled against the article — and this one came from a reader that submitted the story — is that the article could have quoted another Catholic other than the mother. However, this is very much a personal story that is unfortunately playing out in the public square.

The other area I wish the article had focused on is the organization’s history, its activities outside the immediate controversy, and how the group maintains its funding. The article gives a definite sense of what the group is not about, but less about what the group is about. Are members of the group are expected to maintain a financial commitment while involved and what are some of the group’s main accomplishments since it was launched?

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Indulgences sell newspapers?

orthodox_indulgenceToo frequently in print journalism, headline-induced spin ruins an otherwise solid news article. Such seems to be the case in this New York Times article on the alleged “return” of indulgences.

From a journalistic perspective, the article covers a lot of ground geographically. The article reflects a nice diversity of regions, from Pittsburgh to Oregon to Oklahoma. I would hope that other areas of the country see this article as an opportunity to contribute to the local discussion.

However, reporters calling their local bishop should be careful in how they phrase their questions because if they just base their inquiry on the articles’ headline they may be perceived as fairly uninformed.

Here is the article’s headline:

For Catholics, a Door to Absolution Is Reopened

A major issue for the many of you who have kindly submitted comments to us on this article is the fact that the door to indulgences was never really shut by the church. And the article reflects that fact at the beginning of the article (second paragraph) and at the end (final paragraph):

In recent months, dioceses around the world have been offering Catholics a spiritual benefit that fell out of favor decades ago — the indulgence, a sort of amnesty from punishment in the afterlife — and reminding them of the church’s clout in mitigating the wages of sin.

“It faded away with a lot of things in the church,” said Bishop DiMarzio. “But it was never given up. It was always there. We just want to people to return to the ideas they used to know.”

Overall, most of you who have already submitted comments, liked the article. One suggested that the comments from former America editor and Jesuit Rev. Tom Reese should have been cut from the article and that Notre Dame theology professor Rev. Richard P. McBrien could have been balanced out by another conservative theologian.

One reader submitted an extensive comment that focused on the article’s struggles to capture the true essence of an indulgence: the detachment from sin. The reader also noted that the article didn’t mention the document which lists all indulgences that are available on a regular basis known as the Enchiridion of Indulgences:

With every indulgence there are the requirements of going to confession, praying the Creed, Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be, in particular for the intentions of the Pope. And then each indulgence also has other particulars, as listed in the Enchridion or published for particular circumstances. For instance, in this year of St. Paul, the requirement is to visit a church named in his honor and to follow all prescribed prayers.

However, there’s something more than this which was totally missed. In order to obtain a plenary indulgence, i.e. a complete remission of all punishment due to sin, one must have complete detachment to sin. This means there can’t be any desire for any sin of any kind. That’s the difficult part. People I know who try to obtain these indulgences know that they’ll only obtain a partial one because they don’t have that total detachment from sin.

The substance of the article seems to rightly focus on the fact that this is not a shift in church theology, but a marketing attempt of sorts to draw people in closer to the church in the United States. In fact, the article could have been flipped around to focus on the evidence that Catholics go to confession less often these days. The article’s focus could have also centered on the perceived “conservative resurgence,” but my guess is that there have been plenty of articles on that topic lately.

And as a final note on the article’s focus, indulgences tend to catch people’s attention, don’t they?

Image of an 18th-century absolution certificate granted by the Patriarch of Jerusalem and sold by Greek monks in Wallachia (History Museum, Bucharest) used under a Wikimedia Commons license.

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Prairie poetry

hunter_church2.jpgI love a good story, don’t you? One that you can sink your teeth into by a fireplace or on your porch, with a cup of tea or a nice craft brew at your side.

Financial pressures, and the general pace of 21st-century life make it more challenging for media to send reporters out to cover the narratives that oftimes help make sense of places that some of us have never seen.

That’s why, (with a few caveats), I loved the recent rural churches story by David Van Biema in Time.

How many of us know that there is a crisis, a shortage of pastors, facing America’s rural congregations? Caught up in the media drumbeat about (admittedly important) issues on both coasts and internationally, we aren’t hearing as much as we should about the more mundane, less controversial decisions that make up the fabric of most lives.

Van Biema’s lede paints a vivid image of loss:

Carol Porter, 63 and no word mincer, sits in her modest kitchen in Euclid, Minn., and recalls the day her 118-year-old church was burned to the ground. “I was baptized, confirmed and married there,” she reports. Her family had moved two lots down from Euclid’s First Presbyterian, so she was able to watch through the kitchen window a few years ago as fellow parishioners knocked down the church, buried its fixtures and then put a match to what remained, sending a thousand Sundays of memories up in smoke.

America’s rural congregations, thinned by age and a population drain that plagues much of farm country, have gotten too small and too poor to attract pastors. No pastor means no church. And losing one’s church–well, Porter has a vivid memory of that, living as she does in an area where abandoned buildings are control-burned for safety. The flames were taller than a man, she remembers. “In plain English,” she says, “it looked like hell.”

Here’s a fascinating statistics from the Fund for Theological Education: less than half of American rural congregations have a “full-time seminary-trained pastor.” But the writer doesn’t rely on statistics and quotable talking heads. He gets out into the lovely Minnesota countryside, and talks to real people struggling with real problems–and trying to find creative solutions reminiscent of the old circuit-riding days.

One response to the pastor shortage is “yoking” two congregations to share a circuit-riding minister–and one salary. Along the Minnesota–North Dakota line, the yokes stretch thin. Jeff Gustafson, in the town of Warren, Minn., adds a degree of difficulty: he’s Methodist, but one of his two yoked churches is Presbyterian. Another pastor travels 200 miles (about 320 km) every weekend to serve five churches. A botched three-pastor attempt to connect three already yoked churches (including Grue) with four more resulted in, among other things, shut-ins being overlooked and not receiving Communion for years.

What seems conspicuously absent here is a reference to what Roman Catholics are doing to fill prairie pulpits. Are the monks of Benedictine St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville (about 70 miles from Minneapolis) filling some spiritual needs for Roman Catholics in Minnesota? Is there an organized program to supply clergy?

I bring up St. John’s because of a very intriguing reference Van Biema makes to Crookston, Minn., pastor Daniel Wolpert. A Presbyterian, Wolpert started the Minnesota Institute of Contemplation and Healing, a retreat center that allows visitors to partake of and receive training in the ancient spiritual disciplines of the Christian church. That’s worth another story in itself.

There is new life springing up, even in the midst of prairiescapes grappling with population loss and a shortage of clergy. Here’s how one clergy quoted by Van Biema puts it at the end of the article: “”God is with you wherever you are going,” he tells the youngsters. “God never says goodbye to us. Let’s pray: O God, thank you for not saying goodbye. Thank you for always being with us.”

Good stories engage us. We don’t want them to end. I don’t know about you, but I want to know what happens to these folks. Faith is not always about the spectular, but about the ordinary. I hope in another year or two Van Biema stops in the “gorgeous, wind-strafed corner of Minnesota” again, and gives urban and suburban readers another glimpse of a rural life that, to many of us, seems as distant as the Little House on the Prairie. They must get a little tired reading about us.

Postcard from Flickr: The Commons.

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Take, eat, this is my body (updated)

eucharistA fire caused extensive damage to the Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago this morning. There’s a really long, interesting and thorough article about the blaze and its repercussions over at Chicago Breaking News, which is a composite site for WGN, the Chicago Tribune and other media outlets:

An extra-alarm blaze that broke out this morning at Holy Name Cathedral downtown caused extensive fire damage to the roof and attic, but spared the cathedral’s sanctuary.

Cardinal Francis George said the cathedral’s roof would have to be rebuilt and there was considerable water damage inside. “Chicago has always bounced back from fires and I think we’ll bounce back from this,” the cardinal said as he left the church.

“The boys saved the church, that’s for sure,” said Deputy Fire District Chief Tony Romano of his firefighters. “We don’t save too many of them.”

But there’s a whopper of a problem with one line in the story:

One of the church officials said the blessed sacrament or Eucharist, which symbolizes the body of Christ, was removed.

It is wonderful to see a reported detail on the sacrament but Catholics do not believe that the Eucharist symbolizes the body of Christ. They believe that the bread and wine becomeare — the body and blood of Christ. This isn’t really an unknown teaching of the church, having been featured in popular culture, literature and general discourse for hundreds of years.

As the reader who sent it in noted:

Perhaps most readers wouldn’t have noticed this, but I think this is something that an editor, at the very least, should have picked up and changed.

Yes, it’s a rookie mistake in an otherwise solid story.

UPDATE: Reader Christopher Milton notes in the comments:

Clicking through your link it appears that they have corrected their error concerning the True Presence.

It now reads along the lines of “…which Catholics say is the body of Christ…”

Very straight forward.

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Rabbit at rest

updike-portraitJohn Updike, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist known for his detailed portrayals of life — the mundane and the ecstatic — died this week. I didn’t get the chance to read him until about 10 years ago when one of my best friends introduced me to his prolific work. But I really enjoyed his prose and also what seemed to be a distinctly Lutheran approach to sin and justification.

It turned out he was raised Lutheran, although he’s worshiped as an Episcopalian for decades. The religious views that shaped his work are important and unavoidable and the media have done a great job of including them in their obituaries, retrospectives and appreciations.

The first New York Times story on the matter including this bit, for instance:

Raised in the Protestant community of Shillington, Pa., where the Lord’s Prayer was recited daily at school, Updike was a lifelong churchgoer influenced by his faith, but not immune to doubts.

”I remember the times when I was wrestling with these issues that I would feel crushed. I was crushed by the purely materialistic, atheistic account of the universe,” Updike told The Associated Press during a 2006 interview.

”I am very prone to accept all that the scientists tell us, the truth of it, the authority of the efforts of all the men and woman spent trying to understand more about atoms and molecules. But I can’t quite make the leap of unfaith, as it were, and say, ‘This is it. Carpe diem (seize the day), and tough luck.”’


Michiko Kakutani’s remembrance
was beautifully written as always. I always enjoyed reading him for the secret — sometimes poignant, sometimes horrifying — look at what men really think. She notes that even this had religious themes for Updike. After looking at the existential struggles of some of his best characters, she writes:

Their fear of death threatens to make everything they do feel meaningless, and it also sends them running after God — looking for some reassurance that there is something beyond the familiar, everyday world with “its signals and buildings and cars and bricks.”

But if their yearnings after salvation pulled them in one direction, Mr. Updike’s heroes also found themselves tempted by sex and romantic misalliances in the here and now. Caught on the margins of a changing morality, unable to forget the old pieties and taboos and yet unable to resist the 60′s promise of sex without consequences, these men vacillate between duty and self-fulfillment, a craving for roots and a hungering after freedom. As the author himself once put it, his heroes “oscillate in their moods between an enjoyment of the comforts of domesticity and the familial life, and a sense that their essential identity is a solitary one — to be found in flight and loneliness and even adversity. This seems to be my feeling of what being a male human being involves.”

I also appreciate her caricaturization of Updike’s work as a vocation. Not everyone picked up on the religious themes so much, which is understandable. Some writers explored both his writings on sex and his religious themes (two of my very favorite things).

But for the best discussion of Updike’s religious views, head over to PBS’ Religion & Ethics Newsweekly. They provide an intimate look at Updike’s religious life, based on his public lectures and writing:

While much of his earlier work contains traces of Updike’s furious immersion in Christian theology, he said he looked more to the congregation of his hometown Massachusetts church as the rock of his faith today.

“When I haven’t been to church in a couple of Sundays I begin to hunger for it and need to be there,” he said, standing at a podium in front of the altar, against a backdrop of Byzantine-style mosaics and dressed in a gray suit befitting one of America’s elder statesmen of letters. “It’s not just the words, the sacraments. It’s the company of other people, who show up and pledge themselves to an invisible entity.”

As a young man studying at Oxford in the mid-1950s, Updike said he devoured new translations of Soren Kierkegaard at Blackwell’s bookstore, discovering him “so positive and fierce and strikingly intelligent, like finding an older brother I didn’t know I had.” He pointed to his classic character Harry Angstrom, of the Rabbit tetralogy, as an example of the Danish philosopher’s influence. The Swiss neo-orthodox theologian Karl Barth informed another character in the first book of the series, the Lutheran minister Fritz Kruppenbach, who faces off with an Episcopal priest in a scene Updike chose to read. Upon going to Kruppenbach’s house to discuss Rabbit’s desertion of his family, Rev. Eccles is treated to a diatribe against meddling in others’ affairs. Kruppenbach sounds like a stand-in for Barth himself.

“When on Sunday morning then, when we go before their faces, we must walk up not worn out with misery but full of Christ,” he tells a disconcerted Eccles. “Make no mistake. There is nothing but Christ for us. All the rest, all this decency and busyness, is nothing. It is Devil’s work.”

And there’s much more — about his denominational affiliations, his view on whether progressive politics are hampered by Christian theology, and the seeds of religious consciousness.

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