Congratulations!

While Ginny knowingly placed her future ordination at risk in this act of Biblical Obedience, Ginny could not have imagined that her membership in The UMC would be threatened as well. However, on August 27, Ginny’s District Superintendent, Rev. Bill Haggard, informed her that her candidacy for ordination and her membership in The UMC were revoked weeks ago as a result of a letter penned by three United Methodist clergy in other states demanding that such disciplinary action be taken against her. The stated-rationale for such action insists that Ginny was excommunicated when she acquired an online designation necessary for the legal pronouncement of marriage. – “Clergy Candidate Removed From Ordination Process And Membership In The United Methodist Church”, September 4, 2015

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One final thing that troubles me is that the structure of the United Methodist Church states that we are accountable to our local and regional bodies. Instead of trusting that a pastor who is seen as errant would be held accountable, these clergymen interfered across annual conference and jurisdictional lines. It should be noted that clergy trials of late have all been initiated by localcomplaints, certainly not by ones far-removed from context. While such an action is allowed in United Methodism, not all that is legal is good.

My hope is that other individuals who seek to take it upon themselves to accuse others in the United Methodist Church instead allow the local or regional response by their clergy peers to go forward. Our accountability is to the annual conference, and to trust that process. It’s a shame that there’s a group of Methodists trolling online articles for people to bring charges against. May we all be better. – Rev. Jeremy Smith, “2/3 Of The Via Media Methodists Wrote A Letter To Remove A Laity From Local Church Membership,” Hacking Christianity, September 4, 2015

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Acting out of love and loyalty to her friends, Ginny Mikita has discovered herself at the center of yet another storm in our UM fight.

Acting out of love and loyalty to her friends, Ginny Mikita has discovered herself at the center of yet another storm in our UM fight.

I think congratulations are in order! To the three gentlemen who comprise Via Media Methodists, you managed to make names for yourselves! To the District Superintendent and Bishop in Western Michigan, many thanks for demonstrating such zeal in upholding our Book of Discipline!

In seeking to uphold the letter of our law, they have only instilled contempt for it. In acting out of a dedication to our connectional system, they have stripped the word of any substantive meaning. In seeking to reinforce the integrity of the United Methodist Church, they have left us a laughing stock. In a denomination that claims, at the heart of our worship – the communion table – that all are welcome at God’s table – they have demonstrated the reality that some people just aren’t welcome at all. And of course, in seeking to make names for themselves as Important People in the United Methodist Church, they have threatened not only the District Superintendent in Michigan, but as my wife – a DS in Northern Illinois – made clear, any Superintendent now may find him- or herself facing pressure to act in similar ways. You demonstrate the emptiness both of your so-called “middle way” as well as the viciousness at the heart of the attack both upon sexual minorities in our denomination as well as those who support them.

I am quite sure you folks – at least the folks at Via Media – are proud of yourselves. You Accomplished Something. As I say: Congratulations! And I know Rev. Drew McIntyre doesn’t quite get the irony that he’s the author of a blog entitled “Uniting Grace”.

The Prayer Cop Out

But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. – James 1:22-26

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Violence seems to be the order of the day in our country. Reports of shootings are ever more commonplace. We cast about for solutions, but none seems to be forthcoming. We ask for new laws, and laws can change behavior, but they cannot change hearts. Only Christ can change hearts, and he does this by the power and work of the Holy Spirit. . . .

Thirty days of praying for peace and reconciliation….Will you join me? It won’t take very long. Can you think of a better way to spend a few minutes of each day? – Dr. David Watson, “Thirty Days Of Prayer For Peace And Reconciliation”,  Musings And Whatnot, Aug 27, 2015

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Few things are as important as reconciliation. Few reconciliations are accomplished by people sitting around and praying about it.

Few things are as important as reconciliation. Few reconciliations are accomplished by people sitting around and praying about it.

It might seem more than a little odd to read someone who claims the Christian faith to call prayer a “cop out”. What about “pray without ceasing?”; even the Epistle from James reads, in chapter 5, verse 16, “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” How dare I say that prayer is a cop out, to write that nothing is accomplished by prayer!

Except, of course, I’m not “calling” prayer “a cop out”. I am, rather, pointing to a particular piece of writing, linked above, in which readers are invited to spend thirty days in prayer for peace and reconciliation. Both personal and social it would seem, at least from the opening paragraph. We are reminded just how difficult reconciliation is. We are told that real forgiveness – of ourselves, of those we consider “enemies” – is only possible through the power of God. The opportunity to spend even just a few moments each day in prayer for peace and reconciliation is offered.

There’s not a single word that even hints at the following sentence: “And when you’re done praying, get up off your asses, contact the person with whom reconciliation is needed, and get busy.” Or, perhaps: “Say ‘Amen’, then get together with folks who want sensible gun legislation; who want to work to fix the ever-widening gap between the haves and have-nots.” Just . . . 30 days of prayer.

Should I assume, perhaps, that action follows on prayer? I would except the powerlessness and helplessness of human beings in the face both of social injustice and violence as well as interpersonal conflict is presented as nearly insurmountable. Yes – through prayer, we may indeed find the strength to do what needs to be done. Offering 30 Days Of Prayer For Peace And Reconciliation without offering 30 Days Of Action Toward Peace And Reconciliation is a bit like telling the poor, hungry, homeless person “Go in peace!” (James 2:16).

As Wesleyans, we believe ourselves to be co-workers through and with the Spirit both for making disciples as well as for the transformation of the world. This Spirit is the Spirit of Life, the Holy breath of God that moved the first human beings to live, that blew across the primordial chaos bringing light and Creation. We are not just a praying people, although Lord knows we do indeed need to do that. What we do not need to do is accept an invitation only to prayer. We need, rather, 30 Days Of Prayer And Action For Peace And Reconciliation: Spend time in prayer each day to be reconciled with God, with our fellow Christians, with those toward whom we may feel anger or enmity. Then get up, walk out the door, and get busy reconciling. Get busy being peace makers. I’m not denying that real peace and forgiveness and reconciliation comes through the presence of the Spirit; I’m only saying if that Spirit isn’t prompting you to act right now, despite strong emotions and overwhelming obstacles, then perhaps the first thing for which you need to be praying is a clean heart, reconciled to God.

One final note. Presenting us as helpless without the Spirit in the face of a social issue like gun violence is absurd. Solutions abound; political corruption and cowardice, combined with our current poisoned political atmosphere, make any action on any vital national issue impossible. Saying that law don’t change hearts, if followed to its logical conclusion, is counsel to inaction. After all, why have laws for murder, since we know people are going to commit murder? Laws against theft obviously offer no deterrent because the hearts of thieves aren’t changed. Whether or not laws change hearts is not the issue: Changing laws to reduce violence, to increase justice, for a more fair society really do reduce violence, increase justice, and make for a more fair society.

Donald Trump’s Rent-A-Wife

Now imagine FOX Noise right now, if Michelle Obama had been photographed like this ! Now think about Trump winning the Presidency & this money loving centerfold becoming our First “Lady”……..don’t like my language ? Too bad, I went through 7 years of hearing the right wingers call MIchelle Obama “Mooshell” & many other racist & nasty names !

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I’m not shaming them, I’m just showing magazine photos that were sold in public, that show her publicity seeking & love of attention.

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Spouses are fair game when they could possibly be representing the U.S. as First Lady. She is clearly NOT FLOTUS material. These photos should be shared and shared often.

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[I]t wount be first lady it will be first slut.

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Don’t dare present THIS as one who will represent the United States to the whole world! He knew who she was when he decided to run for president. He knew of these pictures and who she is. I will not overlook it! It represents his lack of judgement and integrity. A damned near bald old man running with THAT as a wife. oh no! – The top is the original accompanying statement, the rest being comments, on FB accompanying the photo below.

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Donald and  Melania Trump, with some of Mrs. Trump's modeling photos.

Donald and Melania Trump, with some of Mrs. Trump’s modeling photos.

Liberals, it seems, have decided that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Leading Republican candidate Donald Trump is married to former model Melania Knauss. Some enterprising, and morally upright, Democrat thought it would be a great idea to use some photos of Mrs. Trump to point and laugh at “Conservative Christian Republicans”. The meme, however, is more than a little confusing. Is Mrs. Trump’s race actually the issue in these photos?

Of course not. Which is not to say that much of the vitriol Michelle Obama receives isn’t precisely because of her race. She’s an accomplished, professional woman who also happens to be quite attractive; all the same, she is attacked for having “no class” not because of anything she has done or said, but because she is an African-American woman.

The implication of this meme, I think, is that by posing as models do, or appearing in public in a sheer-top dress without a bra, Mrs. Trump is demonstrating “no class”. Indeed, in the original-original status post accompanying this meme, the poster called Mrs. Trump a whore, changing it only because someone called him out on it. While not at all surprised that people are resorting to this kind of sexist, demeaning vocabulary, I think this is a good follow-up to yesterday’s reminiscing post on the SlutWalk movement. Yet again we have an example of the sexualizing of a woman in the public eye. I honestly have no idea why the person in question thinks Mrs. Trump should be ashamed, or be shamed, for these photographs. All the same, there are many – both men and women – who seem to think these photographs indicate  something about Mrs. Trump’s character. Perhaps they do. On the other hand, they might well only demonstrate that, as a model, she had all sorts of photographs taken, including ones that show more than a little skin.

Women are regarded as objects, pure and simple. Conservatives carry on about Mrs. Obama’s appearance, both for its own sake as well as a proxy for racism. Hillary Rodham Clinton has spent the better part of two decades demeaned and insulted for everything from her looks to the sound of her laughter. Sarah Palin is mocked for her seeming inability to speak in coherent sentences. She is judged as “popular” among a certain segment of the public because of her looks. Now it seems liberals have decided to play the moral scold regarding Melania Trump’s attire. They are shocked – SHOCKED! – to find a wealthy, powerful white man marrying a young woman deemed attractive according to certain arbitrary standards. They are shocked – SHOCKED! – to find a model posing for the kinds of photos models pose for all the time. This whole thing would be ridiculous if it weren’t so sexist.

I have no idea what kind of person Melania Knauss Trump is. I certainly gain no insight to her character from these photos. Perhaps she is a shallow person, marrying Trump only because he’s wealthy. Perhaps, however, she really loves him and in his own twisted way he loves her, as well. I just don’t know, nor do I care. I care far more that liberals have decided there’s something bad about adult women making choices about their careers, their public attire, and linking it to her character. Donald Trump offers enough things through his own mouth liberals can use as fodder to discuss. Going after his wife, particularly in this over-sexualized way, is disgusting. Not surprising. Just disgusting.

I’m Not Supposed To Say This

Tired of the routine objectification of their bodies and the ways that women are told to accept violence as a ‘natural’ part of sexuality, the SlutWalk movement emerged at a time when the absurdity or ‘dislocation’ of this culture was becoming increasingly evident to large sections of society (see Shaw, F. 2011). Although they might not have been familiar with the term ‘rape culture,’ there is no doubt that women (and many men), had become increasingly frustrated by the ways they were being policed and held accountable for other people’s actions. – Kaitlyn Mendes, “How the SlutWalk Has Transformed the Rape Culture Conversation”, Alternet, Aug 12, 2015

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1. Testosterone. Also Freud. Take your pick. Or both, like me. I’m dismayed that both the chemist and the philosopher missed this easy one.

2. One may claim that provocative dress does not warrant violent behavior. But it is willfully ignorant of bio-chemical and psychological realities of human sexuality to deny that provocative dress should only affect any possible object of interest or none at all. Aggression, and sexual aggression is a very real dynamic of human life. Protestantism long has tried to convince us to think that it need not be so. Many weak liberal and libertarian arguments take up that request.

3. Ask more experienced women for their views about the motivations and role of excessively provocative dress. Or, ask female sociologists as to why, on average, youth and lower economic status correlate with more frequent and greater degree of provocative dress. Take your pick. Or do both, like me. – comment, “Sluts And Baptism – Reappropriation”, What’s Left In The Church, June 6, 2011

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We just happen to disagree on some fundamental points here. Do I approve or disapprove of certain trends in women’s attire? Who cares? They are adults, and I respect their privilege to make choices, even choices I would not make.

In essence, you are suggesting that men are brutes, the mere glimpse of cleavage or the mons drives men in to a sexual frenzy from which nothing but the violent (sexual) possession of the one so dressed can deter him, and the best thing for women to do is to understand this, rather than be appealing for a possible assignation with someone.

Second, sticking to my own consistency, I do not as a general rule, disparage anyone with a word – “slutty” – to describe their sartorial choices. It makes the very category mistake the sponsors of the Slutwalks are attempting to end – that a woman can be judged by her appearance, and therefore receive some kind of partial responsibility for the victimization she may receive from men who, glimpsing her cleavage or bare midriff, become insane with lust.

This isn’t about being, or dressing, slutty. It is about the freedom to be adults and make choices, including choices with which others may not agree. Maybe even choices I would prefer my own daughters not make.

As you well know, I do not like moral scolds. Our society would be far better without them, whether they are the kind who insist that I am bad and evil because I don’t think sex is the worst sin ever, or the kind who insist that adults should not be free to make choices others don’t like because of the possible effects on other people. – Me, comment, “Sluts And Baptism – Reappropriation”, What’s Left In The Church, June 6, 2011

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The first New York City SlutWalk in 2011.

The first New York City SlutWalk in 2011.

Once upon a time, I had another blog. On that blog, I ventured far and wide on all sorts of topics and issues. While always rooted in my faith, I tossed discipline out the window. By and large, however, I had fun talking about everything because everything interests me. When I voiced agreement with the methods and goals of the SlutWalk movement emerging in 2011, it seemed someone was upset with me doing something that . . . well, I’m not quite sure what bothered him. Was I supporting “sluts”? Well, since I’m no longer an ignorant and stupid adolescent, I have to say I’ve never actually met a “slut”. Used as a derogatory descriptor for women who behave sexually as men have historically acted, I find it fascinating that an adult human being in the US would keep it as part of our vocabulary. Particularly as used to attack rape victims as deserving of violence because of their alleged appearance, such a word serves a vile purpose. Finally, to carry on that it is somehow “naive” to insist that adult human beings be allowed to live without the threat of violence . . . that’s just odd. Actually my favorite of the claims was that men are slaves to biochemistry, testosterone making us drooling, sex-crazed buffoons at the barest glimpse of female flesh. Or perhaps the one in which I was told that I should more attention to the slutty ways youth like my daughters dressed than scolding men for just acting the way nature programmed them; that was special, too.

One “criticism” in particular struck me both as morally obtuse and cowardly.

At the same time, I find more troubling the stated preference for “solidarity” with women in Saudi Arabia and other countries with gross violations of basic standards of women’s rights, or in the Sahel in Africa where female circumcision is still common practice. While these are, indeed, issues about which to express outrage and for which more work needs to be done, I find it troubling, to say the least, that one would “prefer” such solidarity, which while morally admirable entails no risk of personal involvement through the messiness of actually getting to know those subjected to such treatment, or risking one’s own personal freedom by stating such solidarity from a distance. It sets up a false choice – either we support a bunch of rich white women or we support a bunch of poor, suffering women of different races, ethnicities, and religious beliefs. On its face, it should be obvious why such is false. [I]nvolvement in the morally messy lives of persons whom we may well encounter each and every day places a far greater level of moral commitment and potential cost upon us.

As the book review at Alternet shows, the rising awareness of slut-shaming and rape-culture has had amazing effects. What one would have been local news stories about gang rapes have become world-wide calls to action against protecting the perpetrators of violence. Not just an elite phenomenon, awareness of slut-shaming and rape culture knows no race, class, or nationality, calling out actions around the world. We owe much to those two young women from Toronto who were mad as hell and weren’t going to take it any more.

 

Glasgow SlutWalk, 2011

Glasgow SlutWalk, 2011

Indeed – the radical notion that no one deserves to be raped. . . . Not a young woman walking home alone from a club. Not an eleven-year-old girl wearing make-up. Not strippers or prostitutes. Not a woman who dresses provocatively, however that might be defined. Not a woman who dresses modestly. The SlutWalk was an attack on the still all-too-prevalent idea that women are object of male lust, regardless of their race, their dress, their nationality, or their consent. Awareness of the prevalence of rape culture is helping; that there is a thriving MRA/PUA culture, especially online, that continues to demean women, attack and threaten women (and some men) who denounce it, and spreads the virus of male sexual dominance and violence as somehow both natural and right means we still have a whole lot to do. We all owe a debt, however, to all those women all over the world who refused to be shamed and victimized by a power structure that perpetuates male violence against women.

God Will Carry On The Divine Work

Generally, when these truths, justification by faith in particular, were declared in any large town, after a few days or weeks, there came suddenly on the great congregation, — not in a corner, at London, Bristol, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, in particular, — a violent and impetuous power, which,

Like mighty wind or torrent fierce, Did then opposers all o’er-run.

And this frequently continued, with shorter or longer intervals, for several weeks or months. But it gradually subsided, and then the work of God was carried on by gentle degrees; while that Spirit, in watering the seed that had been sown, in confirming and strengthening them that had believed,

Deign’d his influence to infuse, Secret, refreshing as the silent dews.

And this difference in his usual manner of working was observable not only in Great Britain and Ireland, but in every part of America, from South to North, wherever the word of God came with power.

Is it not then highly probable, that God will carry on his work in the same manner as he has begun That he will carry it on, I cannot doubt; however Luther may affirm, that a revival of religion never lasts above a generation, — that is, thirty years; (whereas the present revival has already continued above fifty;) or however prophets of evil may say, “All will be at an end when the first instruments are removed.” There will then, very probably, be a great shaking; but I cannot induce myself to think that God has wrought so glorious a work, to let it sink and die away in a few years. No: I trust, this is only the beginning of a far greater work; the dawn of “the latter day glory.” – John Wesley, “The General Spread Of The Gospel”

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There is an unfortunate myth floating about that evangelicals want to divide the UMC. The fact of the matter is, I know a lot of evangelicals, and while a few of them really want division, the vast majority want us to work out our differences and move forward without any kind of major separation of the denomination. If the majority of evangelicals wanted to divide the church badly enough, they would do so. As we have seen with the Episcopal Church, property and pensions cannot hold a denomination together. – Dr. David Watson “The Myth of Evangelical Divisiveness”, Musings And Whatnot, June 15 2015 (emphasis added)

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Of the many things that frustrate me about the current dialogue in the United Methodist Church, few things get me more riled than the way labels are tossed around without thought. As the above quote from Dr. David Watson of United Theological Seminary shows, “evangelical” has come to mean a particular group within our denomination, a label that sets them over and against those obviously not evangelical. I am part of a group on Facebook calling itself “Progressive Methodists”, a name that confounds me in many ways. We would all be better served if we tossed labels aside and agreed, at the very least, on some basic identifiers about being United Methodist.

The first and most important is that we United Methodists are, and have been since the days of John Wesley and Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke (referred to as “the Father of Methodist Missions“, dying in what is now known as Sri Lanka on a missionary journey) an Evangelical denomination. As John Wesley himself makes clear in the above sermon, we spread the Gospel, sometimes in power, sometimes in the simple practice of being who we are; whether it’s a revival meeting or the mundane administration of the Church, what marks us as those who follow in the footsteps of John Wesley is our commitment as a body to spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. Our mission statement is Evangelical, rooted in the Great Commission, making us heralds of the Kingdom. For Watson and others to make of the name something that sets them apart from others among us in our denomination is theologically ignorant and unnecessarily politically divisive.

The labels we use as identifiers within our Church – evangelical, progressive, liberal, traditionalist – are all words that have meanings. Unfortunately, they are not the meanings those who are just a bit too quick to use them believe them to be. If one is a United Methodist, then one is by definition Evangelical. That is who we are. That is what it is to be a United Methodist. To be a United Methodist, however, is also to be progressive. We work for the forward movement of the Gospel, the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God. That automatically makes us workers in the fields where those who have nothing are seeking something. We offer the naked clothing; we offer the lonely hospitality and community; we offer the hungry food; we name our brothers and sisters whom the world deems inhuman beloved children of God. That is what it means to spread the Gospel.

To be a Christian who adheres to Liberal Theology is to be one committed to a refusal to sacrifice the intellect. Liberal Theology’s great gift to the Church is the critical spirit that has opened up our past and future. From the first historical critics of the Bible; from Friederich Schleiermacher’s Christ-centered insistence on faith being an orientation to God granted as a gift from God; to the Personalist Philosophy of turn of the 20th century Methodists and the great flowering of mid- and late-20th century protest, process, and post-modern theologies, Liberal Theology has kept alive the intellectual rigor so necessary to “faith seeking understanding”.

Traditionalist/fundamentalist Christianity returned our eyes and ears to the Bible; to the centrality and necessity of the Word as the primum inter pares when it comes to authority. While Barth began that movement within streams of neo-orthodox and crisis theologies, here in the US, it was the fundamentalists and traditionalists who have reminded us that the canon is not only the body of writings but the rule by which truly faithful Christian theology is measured.

To be a United Methodist, then is to be evangelical, progressive, Liberal, and a traditionalist. They are ours by birthright, our history, and our traditions. We are not divided by these labels. They unite us, mark us as The People called Methodist who trust the work begun through us in the Spirit will be completed in God’s good time. I pray for our understanding that all of us and each of us will grab hold of these words in the fullness of their meaning as the special identifiers for who we are and what we do.

Not An Immediately Impressive Character

Mozart always had something to say, and he said it. But we should not complicate and spoil the impact of his works by burdening them with those doctrines and ideologies which critics think they have discovered in them but are in face an imposition. There is in Mozart no “moral to the story,” either mundane or sublime. – Karl Barth, “Mozart’s Freedom”, in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, p. 51

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Mozart’s music, like the teeming drama of the Bible and like good crisis theology, gives us permission to live. “With an ear open to your musical dialectic, one can be young and become old, can work and rest, be content and sad: in short, one can lice”; thus Barth speaks directly to Mozart, in a tone of profound gratitude. Those who have not felt the difficult of living have no need of Barthian theology; but then perhaps they also have no ear for music. – John Updike, “Foreword”, Karl Barth, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, p.12

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Karl Barth began each day of his very long theological career listening to Mozart on his phonograph.

Karl Barth began each day of his very long theological career listening to Mozart on his phonograph.

I felt I would be remiss, commenting as I have been on Barth’s shorter writings, if I didn’t at least mention the tiny collection of four essays on Barth’s favorite composer. Reading through the pieces, ranging from just a couple pages to a dozen or so, the most delightful feeling I had as a reader was encountering a Barth one hardly imagined existed. The combative, serious, elder statesman of European theology is transformed in to . . . a fan. I use that term pointedly. There is a joyous, childlike quality to Barth’s writings on Mozart – as he points out again and again, the same qualities expressed in Mozart’s music – that would be impossible to find in his theological writings. He sheds his theological cloak and is just Karl Barth, the now-old man (the four pieces were written when Barth was around 70 years old) who still remembers the joy he felt as an eight-year-old, hearing his father play on the family piano just a few lines of Mozart. To be captivated and captured this way – Barth’s description is similar to those we read from people talking about love at first sight – is a special gift. Barth clearly recognizes this, celebrating all that Mozart has given him over his long life.

I would also be remiss, however, if I did not note that themes that appear in Barth’s theological writings appear in these essays. Along with them, of course, is the kind of blindness, or at least myopia, Europeans then had about classical and symphonic music over and against both folk music and non-Western music. To say, for example, that Mozart’s music is “universal” is to make a claim that just cannot be justified. Despite its beauty and power, I would hazard a guess that non-Westerners might hear it and enjoy it, yet also find it lacking something their own music offers them. Which is not a criticism, but an observation. That Barth was famously against making such statements about the universal nature of theological language, hard pressed as he was to emphasize again and again that theology only says one thing, one specific thing, and then falls silent. In much the same way, despite calling Mozart’s music “universal”, Barth says in the quote above that Mozart says what he says, and only what he says, then moves on. In other passages, he talks about Mozart’s utter lack of interest in political or religious controversies of his day; his ignorance of art, literature, and poetry; his supreme dedication only and ever to his music, even to the detriment of his personal life.

At the same time, Barth says that all the eighteenth century is on display in Mozart’s music. Not just the music of the times – Barth notes that Mozart studies everything from older contemporaries like Haydn and Handel to folk and bourgeois tunes – but the times themselves. In the midst of his personal ignorance, Mozart’s ear was so attuned that he expressed life without preaching. The best music, of course, always does this. The Beatles, for example, were always their best musically, socially, and politically when they weren’t playing their instruments from a soapbox. Marillion, a band contemporaneous with U2, is far more interesting theologically than the a-bit-too-twee U2. Tool’s songs are far more interesting social commentary than anything from Rage Against The Machine precisely because Tool isn’t revolutionary. The best music contains politics, religion, and social commentary without being self-aware. In this way, Mozart’s music transcended the limitations of his own ignorance, offering listeners all of life without ever shouting about it. In the same way, the complaints that Barth’s theology was thin on the ground when it came to ethical and political matters misses the point that, for Barth, all theology was ethical and political. It just didn’t scream it in people’s ears; like the revelation upon which it reflects, theology deals with the one thing. That one thing, however, contains all the most needful things, as does our human reflection upon it.

In much the same way, Barth remarks upon Mozart’s freedom as a composer, yet a composer free always within the musical and compositional constraints of his time. No revolutionary despite his commitment to Freemasonry, Mozart rather used the discipline of the imposed constraints as boundaries within which he could fly. Freedom is an enormous theme of Barth’s theology. God is defined as the one who loves in freedom. Grace in the form of the Incarnation is the free choice of the Son. Faith, the gift of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church, is the acknowledged freedom to love God. Unlike the Divine freedom, however, human freedom as the gift of our loving God is always a freedom limited and constrained by the content of the revelation of who God is. Thus, as Barth is at pains to define in Church Dogmatics, Vol II, Part 1, God is the one whom we may freely love because must fear God. Our love for God only truly free when it springs from the necessity of our fear of God. Our proclamation of our faith in this God necessitates as a presupposition our fear of God; our proclamation, however, is always free precisely because this God we fear is the God whom we may freely love. Human freedom is neither absolute, nor able to be our free faith unless it is bound by the God to whom it testifies, in the necessary fear of this God who chooses to reveal the Divine Life to sinful humanity.

For Barth, then, Mozart’s music – setting to one side Mozart’s far too short life of dissipation, naivete, and carelessness in matters of life and love – is an exemplar of the kind of freedom Christians have in the Church. As such, Mozart serves as a witness to how we are to live in the Church, doing the one needful thing because it is the one thing we can do. I don’t believe these observations are accidental. Nor do I believe them to be a case of Barth reading in to Mozart that which is not there. It demonstrates, rather, how powerful a tool music is, offering the devoted listener the possibility of insights to all areas of human life and endeavor. One need not be a lover of Mozart to recognize the power music has to shape how we think and believe; to reflect back to us our highest hopes and deepest despair, sometimes at the same time. For Barth it was Mozart, sine qua non.

If nothing else, these short essays offer a possibility. In the church’s ongoing life, there are all sorts of resources at hand that have a theological voice to which we should – perhaps – give a closer listen than we might. Whether it’s Mozart or Mos Def or Metallica, paying closer attention might offer rewards we hadn’t known were there before.

The Fullness Of God Was Pleased To Dwell

[Jesus Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. [Jesus Christ] is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile . . . all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. – Colossians 1:15-20

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But did it not appear to escape us by quite a distance that the deity of God – and we certainly wanted to deal with [the living God]  – found its meaning and its power only in the context of [God’s} history and of [God’s] dialogue with [humanity], and thus in [God’s] togetherness with [us]? Indeed – and this is the point back of which we cannot go – it is a matter of God’s sovereign togetherness with [humanity], a togetherness grounded in [God] and determined, delimited, and ordered through [God] alone. Only in this way and in this context can it take place and be recognized. It is a matter, however, of God’s togetherness with [humanity]. Who God is and [God] is in [God’s] feity [God] proves and reveals not in a vacuum as a divine being-for-[God], but precisely and euthentically in the fact that [God] exists, speaks, and acts as the partner of [humanity], though of course as the absolutely superior partner. [The God] who does that is the living God. And the freedom in which [God] does that is [God’s] deity. It is the deity which as such also has the character of humanity. . . . It is precisely God’s deity which rightly understood, includes [God’s] humanity. – Karl Barth, “The Humanity of God”, in The Humanity Of God, pp. 45-46

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Matthias Grunewald's altar piece for the hospital chapel at St. Anthony's monastery in Alsace. Along with Mozart on the record player, Barth had this triptych in front of him while he wrote.

Matthias Grunewald’s altar piece for the hospital chapel at St. Anthony’s monastery in Alsace. Along with Mozart on the record player, Barth had this triptych in front of him while he wrote.

In a day I’ve jumped from reading some of Barth’s earliest theological reflections to those offered at the end of his long life and career. Time-jumping like this can be a bit overwhelming, particularly if the reader isn’t at all familiar with the course of Barth’s thought over the decades. Here, at the end of all important things for Barth, he confesses both the zeal and blindness of the beginning of what was then “a new direction” in European Reformed theology. In the manner of St. Augustine’s Retractiones, Barth’s “The Humanity of God” is a mea culpa not only for youthful over-enthusiasm, but actual blindness. In so doing, Barth offers a model for all who are on the journey of faith. It is one thing to celebrate not only what one learns; it is yet another to consider oneself the bearer of some kind of revolutionary message, a message that sweeps away what is patently old and, in many deadly ways, failed; it is still another, however, to come to the conclusion that some, at least of the baby was tossed out with the bathwater.

Among the adjectives one could assign to the Swiss Doctor, “humility” is not one that comes to mind. For example, there was little of the grace of which he wrote so voluminously in his rejection of Emil Brunner’s attempt at a rapprochement at the end of Brunner’s life. Barth’s silence in the wake of pleading from the Hungarian Reformed Church for support during the 1956 uprising against communist rule, something that Reinhold Niebuhr for example called him out for, showed both political naivete and – dare I say it? – theological cowardice on his part. For each of these acts, however, Barth not only did not back down; he defended with his usual vigor actions that to many lacked the kind of nuance and attention to ethical seriousness with which he offered his Church Dogmatics. To find, then, this instance of an apology for what was, in many ways, a very important and necessary course correction in European theology is all the more stunning considering the background sketched above.

Yet apologize – or more properly retract as St. Augustine did – is precisely what he does. For all that so much of late European liberal theology had become – let’s not guild any lilies – tiresome, expositions upon human feeling rather than Divine action, and too silent on the ethical task of the Church; for as much as Barth himself saw the shallowness and weakness of his German teachers, in particular the great historian Adolf von Harnack, who actually wrote the defense of the war Kaiser Wilhelm II gave in Berlin (in a picture of the crowd at that speech, a very young Adolf Hitler can be seen all too clearly, his eyes alight with just a tad too much joy), he now almost half a century later admits there was a recognition of the immanence of the Divine/human encounter that was cast aside far too briskly. Perhaps, indeed, with a bit too much contempt.

Over the course of his long theological journey and academic career, Barth not only rediscovered the theological history of the Scriptural witness. He also highlighted – as did his great late adversary Friedrich Schleiermacher – the centrality of the Incarnation for any beginning of understanding of who God is, and who we are in relation to God. That Barth and Schleiermacher understood and defined that Incarnation in very different terms; that later liberal/romantic/ethical theologians and historians of religion would emphasize more the sense of religious feeling than the objective reality of the Divine life encountered in Jesus Christ was, perhaps, a symptom of bourgeois comfort, something Barth acknowledges, rather than any drift toward a Christian humanism. A close reading of Barth’s Dogmatics offers readers a glimpse of this gradual change over the years, as Barth more and more places the reality of the Incarnation and its implications at the center of his thought.

In the epistle to the Colossians, we read a beautiful hymn to the Incarnation. It’s center is the declaration “in [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile . . . all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” So much of our subsequent doctrine and theology, our prayer and worship, our teaching and our mission, flows from this powerful statement. All of us, I think, who feel compelled like Jacob to wrestle with the angel during our endless night, would do well not only to remember that even someone as influential and important as Karl Barth could admit an error – not just of love but of pride – and see fit to make clear the character of that error and offer a way back toward integrating what came before with what is now. In this Colossians passage we have the best Scriptural guide to remembering ours is a faith in which transcendence and immanence, the glory of the Father and the self-emptying of the Son, death and life all come together, existing not in tension but in mutual giving and taking. It is a reciprocity rooted in the same Spirit that is the love that binds Father and Son, humanity to the Triune life, and the Church to its Head.

Rather than arguing over abstruse theological matter, or demanding doctrinal conformity, perhaps we need to return to the Bible as the young Barth and his friends did. Perhaps we need to remember that no matter how fully we believe we have discovered something True and Beautiful, we might yet not have discovered the Truth. As Barth himself said, we must always live as if we know the truth. We must never, however, claim to have the truth. In that way lies our humility, a willingness listen rather than speak, and an openness to both new and old movements of the Spirit within our midst.

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