Friday, June 26, 2009

Remembering Farrah

Tuning CBS News on the radio at Noon yesterday: "Farrah Fawcett is dead."

I think The Poster hung in our (Richard's and my) bedroom. My memory of that is a bit hazy as I was usually too cheap for such things when I fell for Farrah at 16. My brother would have been the more likely of us to actually buy it, but all I clearly remember is his poster of Catherine Bach from The Dukes of Hazzard. (Cute in her own way, but no Farrah!)

Regardless, my, uh, appreciation for Miss Fawcett was sufficiently public that among my 17th birthday gifts from my school chums was the then-recent January 19, 1976, issue of People Weekly magazine, with Farrah and Lee Majors on the cover as "The $6 Million Couple: TV's bionic beefcake Lee Majors and wife Farrah Fawcett" -- that I just found in my Library. (This was well before Charlie's Angels.) Inside of which I find a "Tiger Beat Super Poster" of Farrah on one side -- that would have been on my wall, likely courtesy my sister -- and all three of the original "Charlie's Angels" on the other side. And a cut-out from some other magazine of those same "Angels" in red evening dresses.

(By the way, have you heard about the entertainer who was described as a combination of the non-Farrah "Charlie's Angels," Jaclyn Smith and Kate Jackson? Yup, her name is Kate Smith.)

Anyway, wrote People's Lois Armstrong:
Majors came into Fawcett's life as peremptorily as he now runs it. That was in 1968, during her second week in town. The good Catholic daughter (she still says her rosary every night) of a Corpus Christi oilfield contractor, Farrah Fawcett (that's really her name) had been voted one of the "Ten Most Beautiful Coeds" at the U. of Texas. A flack spotted her picture and invited her to Hollywood, and two years later she came, driven by her folks. Then someone else spied a Fawcett glossy—Majors' agent. That same day, Lee left a terse message at her all-girl rooming house: "Tell Farrah Fawcett that Lee Majors called and will pick her up at 7:30 for dinner."

"How dare he?" Farrah recalls reacting. "Who does he think he is?" Majors was, as it happened, a Kentucky boy, orphaned before he was 2. Football got Lee through Eastern Kentucky State College, but injuries (knee, shoulder and a nose busted five times) precluded a pro career. He came to L.A. to become a high school coach and fetched up with the recreation department, where he got turned on to acting by some touch football buddies.

So after two years of studying and scrambling and by the time Lee importuned Farrah, everyone knew damn well who he was—Barbara Stanwyck's bastard son Heath on the hit ABC series The Big Valley. But Majors phoned her back to apologize for his brashness, and she still remembers "melting into a thousand pieces" when he arrived and crooked his finger at her like a gun. "It was love at first sight, I guess." But awkward. "We got in the car," Farrah continues, "and there was complete silence for about 10 minutes. He didn't even ask me any stupid questions—like where did I come from. He said something once, but I couldn't hear it, so I just smiled." "What I'd said," Lee carries on, "was 'You're really beautiful'—and she missed it." Then, at a discotheque, she ordered Scotch and Coke, didn't drink it but disappeared, under the weather, for 30 minutes. "I didn't know if she was really sick or if she just didn't like me," he reports, but the next day Majors sent her 13 yellow roses, and they've been together the seven years since, the last two as Six Million Dollar Man and wife.
Part of her charm is that she seemed sweet and innocent, though I missed the hint (sigh! it was a more innocent age) that Lee and Farrah had shacked up for a few years before they married.

Alas, the marriage didn't last and Farrah spent the rest of her life unmarried to Ryan O'Neal in a, uh, stormy relationship. Still gorgeous and much more accomplished as an actress, her appeal as anything other than a pleasant memory of 16 was long gone. A memory I enjoyed last spring watching the first season of Charlie's Angels on DVD (a gift from my sister and her family). I also liked, as the TV last night showed a film of her about to enter an MRI (?), that she made the sign of the Holy Cross. Which is why her companionship with O'Neal still bothers me.

But I still like The Poster.

Tuning NPR News on the radio at 6 pm yesterday: "Michael Jackson is dead."

Not a good day for '70s teenager.

May God rest both their weary souls.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Schifrin: Delight, Design, and Destiny

I don't recall what I was expecting from Amy Schfrin, then the campus pastor (or recently departed campus pastor) at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, when she was announced as a speaker for ALPB's Conference on Sexuality in Kansas City in October 2002. I do know that her Ritualizing Life or Ritualizing Death blew me away -- and you can read it in Christian Sexuality: Normative & Pastoral Principles -- and my response to her opened up some interesting conversations between the two of us since then when we've met on occasion over the years.

The latest issue of Let's Talk, the independent theological journal of the ELCA's Metropolitan Chicago Synod, offers several responses to Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust and Report and Recommendation on Ministry Policies. And once again, Pastor Schifrin blows me away with Delight, Design and Destiny: Toward a Doxological Ethics of Sexuality. Here it is in its entirety.

Delight, Design and Destiny: Toward a Doxological Ethics of Sexuality

A Critique of the ELCA Human Sexuality Statement and the Report and Recommendation on Ministry Policies, 2009

(From Let's Talk : Pentecost 2009 : Volume 14, Issue 1)

By Amy C. Schifrin

The cosmetic separation of ethics from doxology is a frequent problem when Christians take human response and action as the starting point in determining how they are to live. The proposed ELCA Social Statement, "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust" is not unusual in this approach, but such a move determines the misguided course of the nature of the "Report and Recommendations on Ministry Policies" that will follow.

The Social Statement asks what can be considered a sort of third-use-of-the-law type of question, "How do we understand human sexuality within the context of Jesus' invitation to love God and love our neighbor?" The 'how' of this question applies to what sort of actions we, as Christians, will take once we understand what Jesus "invites" us to do.

The framing of the question is a thin veneer for its theological underpinnings, for within its introductory statement command is turned to invitation, and obedience into pretense. In a few short moves love will become tolerance, sincerity will replace truth, and the bound conscience will no longer be bound to Holy Scripture but to its own Old Adamic interpretation of human experience apart from the One whose Word speaks us into life.

A prior question to the one proposed in the document might be, "How does God use His creation of sexually differentiated beings — male and female — in service of His own commandments to love Him and to love our neighbor?" If we do not trust that His creation of us as male and female — complementary; other; made for love — is good. . . if we do not trust His design, or that He delights in His design, or that His design is connected to the destiny He intends for His good creation, our questions are rooted in a suspicion that will only lead to our own death.

The social sciences have many things to tell us, but they seek meaning empirically, not doxologically. When it comes to understanding sacramentality, whether it be the sacramentality of the design of God's creation or the sacramentality of word and water, bread and wine, their suspicions leave them bereft. The gifts that come from God's steadfast love direct us to His heart — He who is the author and giver of all life (Gen. 2:7); He who draws all people to Himself (John 12:32); He who is preparing us to meet Him as one prepares a bride to meet her beloved husband (Rev. 19:7).

If the 'experts' in our secular society observe the wanton behavior of people and find it common, or even normative, they are not bound to speak both law and gospel for the sake of their neighbors.[1] The Church, however, the body shaped in the cruciform body of her Lord, is so bound. The Church born in the sacramental love of the Triune God, and which has no life apart from Him is His herald, one which calls all people to worship Him — in Spirit and Truth (John 4:23); with their own bodies as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1); with His law written on their hearts (Jeremiah 31:33); and with His praise on their lips (Psalm 100).

Our consciences are bound here and nowhere else, and as unpopular or counter-cultural as it might be, the triune God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — has promised to sustain us until Christ comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead. We are bound to care for our neighbors, and we are called to do so within the sacred frame of God's holy and never-ending love. People may claim in all sincerity to be acting in good conscience, but if their conscience is misinformed, can it be good in the sense that what is good is also what is true?

The elevated value of 'tolerance' that accompanies the ELCA documents with regard to the bound conscience is an attempt to silence what has been passed on as the deposit of faith. Rather, it is the apostolic witness that should be privileged. In saying that we must respect all the voices, the solas of the faith are reduced to one voice among many. The voices that are given equal weight come from those whose interpretation of raw experience apart from the apostolic witness, like all such interpretation, is inevitably self-serving — for the self is, indeed, turned in upon the self.[2]

The social statement and ensuing recommendations ask us to believe that these proposed changes are for the sake of the neighbor. In some way, we and all of our neighbors seek the companionship of human community. In some way, whether appropriately ordered or destructively disordered, all people desire love, touch, a place to rest and comfort. To hold out that they can receive God's intention for us to have such goodness in a same-sex union is the equivalent of false advertising.

We need to distinguish between the need and a distortion of the need. For no matter how much we might pretend that it were not so, the complementarity between the one who cries "this at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh" and the one whose creation was designed for unity with him, can never come to fulfillment or fruition between two members of the same sex. The gift of the fullness of erotic love can be simulated, but like all disordered loving, at the same time that it offers momentary pleasure, it also diminishes who God has intended each one to be.

Neither document examines the multiplicity of reasons or experiences that could lead an individual to come to the self-identification of homosexual. Anything from familial abuse, or the bullying that exacerbates a young person's variations from the media's images of masculinity and femininity, or resentment, or the use of one's body to make a political statement may shape such self-identification. To regularize such an identity (which in its development may be quite fluid) and then bind one to that identity in a relationship blessed by the church is to lock someone into a state that God never intended.

Monogamy and longevity, public accountability and commitment will never turn a same-gendered partner into a sexual other, one whose complementarity allows for the fullness of love written into the creation. Since we are called to care for our neighbor, placing such a barrier to the neighbor's spiritual and relational growth is the opposite of the healing that comes when one is living in the freedom of God's goodness.

While the state may regulate, it is the Church, speaking and acting in trust of the promise of the Triune God that blesses such unions of man and woman. State laws can change with the vote of the people, a bill in a legislature, or a court decision, but the blessing of God comes through faithful apostolic witness, proclaimed in the assembly and enacted in ritual designed to mirror God's intentions.[3]

Marriage rites are not simply about our commitments to each other, but about God's commitment to us. And God in His wisdom uses this union of man and woman as an eschatological sign of how intimate his love is for us — a love stronger than death, for the Bridegroom will love his Bride, the church, eternally.

If same-sex unions are placed on a par with marriage — and they will have to be if the ELCA adopts the structurally flexible option (How can pastors who are homosexual in their self-understanding be in publicly accountable monogamous relationships without such rites?), the significance of a marriage and the marriage rite will be summarily reduced. If one commitment is just as good and right and valid as another, the eschatological sign written deeply into the creation is lost to the church . . . and if lost to the church, where will it be spoken?

This is the place where the egregious nature of the recommendations is exposed. A series of changes to the standards for the life of clergy ("rostered leaders") is proposed with an oft repeated refrain to "find a way" to accomplish the changes, while at the same time there is an explicit restriction against speaking of changes or additions to the rites of the church.

Did the majority of the task force think that there would be any other way for pastoral candidates who are homosexual in their self-understanding (i.e., whose homoerotic affections and inclinations speak more loudly to them than any other voices) to live a "life-long, committed, monogamous, same-gendered relationship" without a public ritual that celebrates, protects and blesses such a union? The reason given[4] that a Rite of Same-Sex blessing is to not be proposed does not ring true, because the changes in the standards would precipitate an official rite in order that there be public and ecclesial accountability.

New worlds are made in ritual enactment. We weren't there when the world was made, we weren't there when the world was made new in the bursting of the tomb, and we may not be there when life on this earth as we know it comes to an end. However, in our ritual life, these events are made ours as we are drawn into the resurrected life of our Lord, He who was there when the waters were formed and who will call our names when crystal fountain flows.

In our ritual, liturgical life we enter into the mystery of His passion. In our liturgical assembly, the life of faith is given us in word and sign, and our maturity in this same faith is also expressed and confirmed in the rites of transition that surround birth, death, and marriage. These rites are epiphanic, that is, through them we at last see what God intends for us to see in faith.

The rite of marriage is an event in which we act out what we believe about our creation, and we discover even more about the One in whom we believe — He who has created us for love. With the eyes of faith, we see why God gave us the sexual differentiation of male and female — we were made to love each other. And now this love will serve as yet another reminder of the all-consuming love that Christ, our Lord, has for His church.[5]

The rites of the church are God's way of giving us a means to live to the praise of His glory. The designing of a rite that binds two people of the same gender together for this life is without this epiphanic dimension, for the binding together of two people of the same gender will leave them with themselves, untransformed.

The Report and Recommendations sets before us two positions, one of continuity and one of change, and it seeks to set these positions before the assembly as equally valid. Here, as it consistently uses the term "same-gender" with regard to particular "orientations" and "relationships," it claims a distinctive identity for those who want the church to approve of their homoerotic desires and inclinations as being natural, right, and fitting.

The social statement has made a clear case for the superiority, appropriateness, and emotional and spiritual health of lifelong, monogamous, committed relationships (which hitherto have been reserved for a male-female relationship) as opposed to transient and/or cohabiting arrangements where the potential for pain is ever immanent. Now the recommendations will use that information as they present the "new" position of affirming life-long, committed, monogamous, same-gendered relationships, because if its good for male-female relationships, how can we deny that it would be good for male-male or female-female relationships, if indeed same-gendered "relationships" are just as pleasing to God?

Without the key piece — i.e., the doxological expression that shapes our faith — one can follow this line of logic all the way up to claiming the church's institution of a Same-Sex Blessing and the ordination of folks who seek life-long, monogamous, same-gendered relationships to be acts of justice, of civil rights; but the ground upon which this argument is built is where the fallacy lies. Males and females were not given the gifts of sexual expression for such homoerotic activity.

The Holy Scriptures have no word of blessing for acts of homoeroticism — regardless of relational contexts, and the church's attempt to sacralize such pairings would work against the health of the neighbor now and for generations to come.[6] Lex supplicandi legem stauat credendi![7] Such 'ecclesiastical' rites would work to change the beliefs all those who participate in them.

Because the proposed social statement starts in the wrong place, the recommendations end in the wrong place, modeling themselves on democratic rather than Biblical justice. True justice and righteousness are rooted in God's steadfast love, so that when our lives reflect His righteousness we are doing what He has made us to do.

So indeed, how does God use His creation of sexually differentiated beings — male and female — in service of His own commandments to love Him and to love our neighbor? Because He has made us in such a way, fitting, complementary, opposite, and paired, He gives us the holy estate of marriage in which lovemaking is an act of faith that He has provided a beloved spouse as a sign of His eternal goodness. For such goodness we give Him praise and from the strength of our homes we work together to care for all in need.

God has made us in such a way that sexual expression and spiritual identity are closely bound, for in His establishment of marriage the nakedness of heart and the nakedness of the body flourish in a covenant of trust and love — and the lovemaking of a husband and wife, with all its joy, delight, tenderness, and passion are among the dearest of His gifts.

For those who receive such a great gift, loving a spouse within God's covenant is both an expression of obedience and a sign to the world of how deeply He loves us all. Trusting that it is He who provided this earthly other for us, trusting that His establishment of marriage for men and women is good, our everyday actions of caring for a spouse become a living doxology, and incarnate ethics of praise.

The Rev. Dr. Amy C. Schifrin
Intentional Interim Pastor, Lower Susquehanna Synod, ELCA
Currently serving Holy Trinity, Hershey, Pennsylvania

- - - - - - - - -


[1] They may use common sense, but they're not even bound to do that.

[2] If this can happen with the sexuality issue, why not with any other issue? In this way the sexuality issue is a symptom that reveals a far greater problem in the ELCA, where popular culture's ways of reading scripture and designing rites become the great shapers of how the Church prays when we gather in Christ's name.

[3] Even in Luther's 1529 "Order of Marriage for Common Pastors" (LW 53:111), vows were exchanged at the church door, but the words and gesture of blessing occurred in front of the altar, where the pastor, with hands raised, spoke the words of Genesis 2:18, 21-24, which then served "as a kind of words of institution for marriage." Philip H. Pfatteicher, Commentary on the Lutheran Book of Worship: Lutheran Liturgy in Its Ecumenical Context (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1990), 459.

[4] The Report and Recommendations acknowledges that "this church does not have biblical or theological consensus on the matter," so that at this time, ritual matters will be left to local congregations (lines 319-325). A chaotic proposal at best, idiosyncratic rather than ecclesial, it may mirror the worst of the wider culture's influence on the design of the church's rites for marriage, so that the emphasis of the rite is on the couple's "personality," not on the faithfulness of God.

[5] "Lord Jesus Christ, as you freely give yourself to your bride the Church, grant that the mystery of the union of man and woman in marriage may reveal to the world the self-giving love which you have for your church; and to you with the Father and the Holy Spirit be glory and honor, now and forever. Amen" Post-Communion Prayer for Marriage, LBW, Minister's Desk Edition, 192.

[6] It would also work against the life of the church because how one deals with the issue of blessing the unions of self-identified homosexuals will become the litmus test within the call process.

[7] "The law of prayer determines the law of belief." Prosper of Aquitaine.

- - - - - - - - -

Permission is granted for reprint and distribution of Let’s Talk in part or in its entirety, provided the journal title, issue date, and author(s) are cited on all copies.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Dr. Tiller & the Visitation

Note: I deliberately held off a week before posting this.

The in-church murder of the notorious Kansas abortionist George Tiller happened as the congregation was about to begin its worship for the Day of Pentecost, which being always the 50th day of Easter, is a movable feast. Most other Christian feasts (Christmass and Epiphany are the most prominent examples) fall on fixed dates. As one of the most major festivals, Pentecost is able to "push around" festivals that aren't quite as, well, major. So with Pentecost falling on Sunday, May 31, the festival assigned to May 31 got a rather short shrift. In fact, the Church's practice in this sort of situation is usually to transfer the celebration to the next day. (That's what we do in the Lutheran church -- except that few actually had services of any sort on Monday, June 1.)

Over at Touchstone's Mere Comments, Robert George noted the, uh, irony of this despicable act happening on the festival called The Visitation, the day the Church commemorates the pregnant Blessed Virgin Mary's visit to her older, pregnant cousin, Elizabeth.
Dr. Tiller & the Visitation

Alas, notorious abortion "doctor" George Tiller went to meet his Maker today, the victim of a homicide. In the foyer of his Lutheran church in Wichita, Kansas. The alleged murderer has been caught, according to report. God have mercy on both.

I note what is, to me at least, a strange irony, that today is May 31. It is the fixed date for Western Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin. Mary, soon after the Annunciation, with Child, goes to meet and greeted Elizabeth, six months with child, and the babe in the womb of Elizabeth--John the Baptist--leaps for joy at the sound of Mary's voice, and Elizabeth, too, responds in wonder at the fact that the "Mother of my Lord" has arrived and greeted her. Two women with child, one a Virgin and the other past the years of child-bearing, meet, and John and Jesus are there, with John, as it were, beginning his ministry of announcing Jesus the Christ in the womb with leaping. For years friends and I have advocated that the Sunday in May closest to May 31 be observed in chuches as "Sanctity of Life," also somewhat in connection with Memorial Day and its remembrance of lives lost in war. Of course, we have a Sanctity of Life Sunday already, in January because of the date of the U.S. 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which opened the floodgates for the Dr. Tillers and other "abortion providers." It would be better to observe Sanctity of Life Sunday not only in the US but elsewhere in connection with the Gospel of the Visitation. It is a rich and significant Gospel that the churches, including Dr. Tiller's own Lutheran church, apparently, ignore.

Too much blood, too many victims. Dr. Tiller's many, many victims. His own life ended in cold blood. Roe opened this door and he went through it. I've written elsewhere about how bad laws make bad men. There will always be bad men (who of us is without sin?) but laws can make us worse, and abandoning the respect for human life in the womb cannot but make a nation worse. The children of Roe are rising up. Lord, have mercy.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Shock Value

What is more shocking? The things that shock us or the things that don't?

The current issue of Touchstone arrived yesterday and, fortunately for you, the article Shock Value is available on this fine magazine's website. Subtitled Pro-Life Transgressions of the Avant-Garde, author Micah Mattix juxtaposes the responses on the campus of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to two events that happened one week last fall:
a “gender-bending” play that would push the limits of experimental drama in its exploration of human sexuality
and a display where:
Carolina Students for Life erected several large Justice for All placards on campus, which contained pictures of unborn children being aborted.
Mattix concludes,
In theory, at least, one of the goals of the avant-garde has been to attack the tastes and moral sensibilities of the bourgeois. It has thus presented works containing subject matter that was indeed considered shocking at the time, works that were created out of relativistic theories of composition. Gone was the notion that art represented, in imaginative form, images of beauty and truth. These were replaced—once again, in theory—with works that presented beliefs and morals as constructed.

The avant-garde theater at Chapel Hill, however, no longer attacks the sensibilities of the students, but rather provides them with the sort of work they want to see in the first place—work that does not challenge their moral paradigm, but confirms it—because the moral paradigm implicit in the avant-garde has now become the moral paradigm of much of the middle class. This, of course, is done in the guise of carrying on the tradition of the avant-garde. What is really avant-garde today, in the original, combative sense of the term, is to stand for life, for beauty, and for truth. Nothing shocks us more.
Read it all here.

Better, run to your newsstand and get the whole issue. And if you don't already subscribe to Touchstone, why not?

Shared via AddThis

Monday, June 01, 2009

Murder in the Church

I first learned about the murder of Dr. George Tiller early yesterday afternoon on while looking at ALPB Forum Online. Mine was a terrible sinking feeling, partly because this happened in the Narthex of a sister ELCA congregation, where Dr. Tiller was serving as an usher as the congregation was preparing for worship on one of the holiest of Christian holy days, Pentecost -- the 50th Day of Easter and the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit.

What, then, should a Lutheran Pastor say in this sort of situation? The best I've seen so far is this letter to the editor posted by three Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod pastors in northwest Wisconsin. As you read it, please do so with the same careful attention with which it was clearly written.
There is an old saying: Two wrongs don’t make a right. This does not appear in the Bible but it certainly reflects a scriptural idea. This concept, that two wrongs don’t make a right, is certainly true in the case of the murder of Dr. George Tiller.

Dr. Tiller was an infamous abortionist, who was one of the very few in the country who would perform late-term abortions. The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod is strongly pro-life, and condemns the practice of abortion. Dr. Tiller, a former member of a Missouri Synod congregation, was excommunicated by that congregation for his abortion practice. (The congregation he was currently attending is part of another Lutheran body.) We stand by that action. Our sister congregation acted properly in disciplining Dr. Tiller. Such action is always intended to lead a person to see their sins and come to repentance. Excommunication is never intended to bring that person harm.

While we condemn Dr. Tiller’s actions as an abortionist, we just as strongly condemn the actions of the person who took his life. Murder, even of a murderer, is never acceptable. God teaches us in Romans 13 and other places, that the government is in place to enforce justice. We are never to take private vengeance. This is simply not given to private individuals. Murder in any circumstances is a grievous sin. It was our utmost desire that Dr. Tiller come to repentance, and perhaps in time he may have. We do not know. Only God sees all ends. Sadly, because of this heinous act of violence, Dr. Tiller no longer has that opportunity.

Rev. Jody R. Walter, pastor LCMS
Immanuel, Frederic

Rev. David Emmons, pastor LCMS
Zion, Turtle Lake/Immanuel, Clayton

Rev. Mark Schoen, pastor LCMS
Shepherd of the Valley, St. Croix Falls
There's a whole lot of careful theology and pastoral care in those 3 brief paragraphs. There will be more to say later on, but in the heat of the moment, these Lutheran pastors have said what needed to be said, no more and no less.