Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Third Sunday of Advent, December 11, 2011

Themes of return and rebuilding are foremost in the mind of many American Christian leaders, as they seek to address the church’s precipitous loss of status in recent decades. In 2008, Lucy Bregman addressed the pitfalls that such themes can hold, when they are examined with naiveté.

First, because with anything that is ‘‘re-,’’ the image of a glorious past haunts the whole project. Once Jerusalem was intact and mighty, but now it is a ruin, a dismal reminder of what once was. There is something innately depressing about ruined, abandoned structures. The larger and grander they once were, the more their ruins will serve to mock and belittle any recent efforts to build modest but livable shelter. Transfer this to the allegorical ‘‘rebuilding’’ of the church, and we find nostalgia for the glorious age of faith, when giant cathedrals were filled with worshippers, when Christian faith and values dominated everyone’s lives. Guided by this misleading idealized picture, we miss the tale of what things were really like, and what really went wrong. We also miss the value of current accomplishments.
Second and related to this, what does get restored can be a caricature of what was once a complex reality. One Louisiana resident complained that New Orleans post-Katrina was likely to turn into ‘‘a theme park version of itself.’’ We can find numerous examples of this where ‘‘the restored New Testament Church’’ is actually ‘‘the nineteenth-century frontier American edition’’ of the church, rather than anything approaching the historical actuality of the first Christian century.
Homily Service, 14 December 2008, vol. 42 issue 1, p.28.
Lucy Bregman, professor of religion at Temple University, is the author of several books including Death and Dying. Spirituality and Religions. She is a member of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Norwood, Pennsylvania.

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