While Mary’s circumstances are unique, her restoration to respectability is part of a larger trend. The gold-hearted prostitute of legend fit in rather well with a long scholarly tradition that located the followers of Jesus and the first Christian communities in the underclass of the Roman world. Christianity thrived, historians once argued, among the oppressed: slaves, landless laborers, women and people with disabilities. Lately this image of a lumpenproletariat church has been dramatically gentrified.
A colleague of mine, writing about the process whereby adults are received into the Catholic Church, reports that most people go through it for their spouse or spouse-to-be. But she has met others who have started inquiring about the church out of their battle with an addiction, or because they read a novel by Graham Greene at an impressionable age. People discover yearnings that they never learned a vocabulary to express; or they might need a new beginning, or a way to identify with something outside of themselves. Whatever you may think of those motives, they are perennial. Whatever you may think of the church, it has a ritual in which they can be given a place.
A child who grows up singing “Silent Night,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and “Away in a Manger” may be forgiven for imagining that nothing could be more delightful than to be born in a stable.
(Note: I wrote this column for The Daily in November 2011. It is no longer extant, so I am republishing it here). Black Friday kicked off the “holiday season” last week. The pumpkin-flavored pastries and beverages have already given way to eggnog and gingerbread, while lite-music radio will be in full Noel mode until Christmas. […]
(Note: I wrote this for The Daily in November, 2011. It is no longer extant, so I am republishing it here). In America today, we may not know what it means to be a saint, but it can’t be said that we lack for opinions on what a saint is not. Or at least who […]
I wrote about the different ways, and places, we’ve chosen to commemorate the Civil War and its aftermath for the Washington Post: The truth is that there is a great deal of history we have chosen, or allowed ourselves, to forget. The Fort Pillow garrison, I learned, consisted not only of whites and former slaves […]
(This column was published in The Daily on June 12, 2011 under the title “Tied Up in Knots.” Since The Daily is no longer extant, I am posting it here) Wedding season is a challenging one for pastors. On the one hand, we don’t mind the extra income weddings provide for our congregations and ourselves. […]
I wrote about the Vatican directives for the bread and wine in the Eucharist for Religion Dispatches: The genius of the eucharist, in strictly human terms, is in its simplicity: bread and wine, the everyday foods of Mediterranean antiquity, enter the ritual process to become body and blood. The elements are plain and common, so […]
(This op-ed originally appeared in The Daily on May 20, 2012, under the name ‘Flunking History.’ It is no longer extant, so I am posting it here) In a 2009 foreign policy speech, Mitt Romney used the word “medieval” to deride the aims of jihad. The jihadists, he claimed, intend to drag “the entire world […]
My newest piece for the Reformation 500th anniversary edition of Let’s Talk: Living Theology in the Metropolitan Chicago Synod: And it is in this surviving vernacular literature that we can sense the real import of the Lollard movement. Wycliffe’s translations, unlike later efforts, did not return to Greek or Hebrew, but rendered the Vulgate in […]