June’s Witness to Depravity and Hope

So many things to cover from the last two weeks!

1. Cinema legend Christopher Lee passed away June 7, leaving behind a renowned body of work and thousands of deeply saddened appreciators. Lee was a giant in his field (seriously, the dude was 6’5″!) with a gravitas few could match and more class than the entire House of Lords. His ability to inhabit a character stays with you long after the film is over- every time. Here he is discussing his forebear Bela Lugosi and his genteel outrage at poor horror dialogue. Sir Christopher Lee has the power to veto your crappy lines, bra!

Blake contributed to a retrospective piece on Lee over at Christ and Pop Culture which I highly recommend you drop everything to read immediately. It honors Lee’s gifts and discusses his empathy for screen villains as an avenue into exploring human depravity and the slipperiness of fallen human ambition for good. Check it out as a precursor to the latest episode of The Body|The Blood in which we discuss Lee’s 1968 film The Devil Rides Out. Its strong anti-occult message (undermined as it may be) makes this video of Lee which has been making the rounds all the more poignant:

2. On a related note, Kristin, Owen and Theo bought me an early Father’s Day gift which singlehandedly boosted the show’s already embarrassing levels of fantasticity:

Ohhhhhh yeah

Ohhhhhh yeah

Yep, no more shoddy built-in mic for this guy! So you’re welcome, Internet. You can hear the subdued majesty of the Snowball at work in our latest episode when it hits the shore (hopefully) this week.

SPEAKING OF WHICH:

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Bruce is back! For Father’s Day, no less! That’s right, folks, June 20 is the 40th anniversary of Jaws’ original release, and no one’s looked at the beach the same way since. Chris, Blake and I will be discussing it in next week’s episode while Chris and I simultaneously defend Steven Spielberg from Blake’s vicious libel.

3. Dylann Roof is apprehended. Pray that justice will be publicly brought to bear upon his atrocity at Emmanuel AME in Charleston and line with that pray that the scandalous gospel of grace will compel Roof to repent of his hatred of the image of God in other ethnicities and that reconciliation between he and the survivors may serve as an icon of reconciliation on a national level as the dividing walls of hostility are disintegrated from within. The two are not antithetical. May the state strike fear into the imaginations of evil men who silently applaud Roof’s barbarity (Romans 13) while the church clings to the other propeller blade that keeps God’s gospel dialectic of judgment and grace in motion. In an incredible manifestation of grace we have seen the victims’ families offering forgiveness to Roof, and their counter-mundane display has attracted attention to the gospel and its power in a way that culture war, status quo-preserving Christianity simply has not and cannot. Here the politics of new creation is made visible to this present decaying age of Adam. Unbelievers have seen this and have tasted something unexpectedly refreshing in it. Pray that many hard hearts (including Roof’s) will be melted by it.

As the nation as a whole examines itself in light of Charleston, pray that God will grant Southerners repentance and that the Confederate flag will be banished from American soil entirely as an icon of a past better left buried in ignominy. Roof demonstrates the truth that we are all catechized into some understanding of what it means to be human, what life and the world are meant to be and what went wrong with them. So no, I don’t have time for the apologia, “Heritage, not hate.” Not when your heritage primarily consists of hate, brothers and sisters. Let the scales fall from many eyes, Lord, to see what many of the rest of us can plainly recognize.

4. And finally, on the subject of heritage and catechesis, Alastair Roberts has a two-part series at the Theopolis Institute about liturgical forms and their contemporary appropriation I don’t think I can recommend quite enough.

Part 1 traces out the reasons we should acquaint ourselves with liturgical practices of the past, the most crucial being our need to inhabit the textual universe of the Scriptures to embody Christian faith in our present. Problems of “authenticity” and identity are posed here and examined further in Part 2, where Alastair discusses the difficulty of bridging the past into the present and meaningfully occupying the cross-shaped double axis in which both times are equally important. Too often jaded evangelicals turn to ancient practices as a means to assert a sense of self more legitimate than their low church populist upbringing, but this is cut from the same cloth as the hipster searching bargain bins for “vintage” threads to legitimate her narrative of chronological awareness and intellectual/aesthetic superiority. Likewise, some appropriate liturgy as a way to retreat into a supposedly “purer” past. These practices, however, aren’t escape hatches to go on repeating the good old days ad infinitum. Nostalgia isn’t the good liturgy promotes or actualizes. What this means is we need a critical realist stance to properly situate our vision for liturgy. Simply repeating ancient forms will not ex opere operato perform the same functions or signify the same theological realities without critical reflection upon our place in history and the consequent presuppositions we reason and feel within. Moreover, some of these practices that have developed over the last thousand years are simply disjunctive with the witness of Scripture and no amount of internal logic can erase their theological inappropriateness. Decades of cultural accomodation has also led to a shift in signification for important practices, such as baptism, shifts which cloud the dense theological implications Scripture leases to these practices. Many perils lie on the side of the past and of the present, then, but the church’s need to disciple its people to inhabit the drama of Scripture necessitates the risk. The Lord of history demands we take history seriously in both directions, then:

The need to remain committed to the past is often placed in opposition to the need to come up to date. However, I see no reason why these concerns need to be at odds with each other. If tradition is, as MacIntyre suggests, a conversation extended through time then both a return to the sources and a deeper attention to contemporary conditions, challenges, opportunities, and voices can serve the same end of extending it. The past can never enter be present without being changed, but such change can involve a deeper faithfulness than slavish repetition—that hiding of the talent entrusted to us in the ground—ever could.

 As I have argued—and as an observant study of the history of liturgy would make acutely obvious—an effective liturgical practice cannot simply be recovered from the past: we and our world have all changed too much for that. What is required is a principled attempt to relate: a) the contemporary performance and concrete reality of liturgy, b) the historic forms of liturgy, and c) the theological and biblical claims for liturgy. Establishing such a relation will involve the creation of something new, the forming of a future.

Through such a relation we must attempt to develop forms of liturgy that are truly communicative and symbolically effective, in a way that upholds and integrates the biblical and theological ends, and honors and maintains a continuity with historic forms. This will also involve addressing the common failures of historic liturgical practice to achieve the integration of biblical and theological ends and effective and faithful communication in their contexts.

A lot to think over for sure, but all of it excellent to ponder. Enjoy the rest of June, y’all!

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