Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Q & A, part II

Q: What's the Heidelberg Catechism?
A: The 1563 answer to that famous conundrum, "it all depends on what the meaning of is is."
Well, perhaps not exactly. The Heidelberg Catechism developed in the midst of the splintering of the early Protestant movement between its Lutheran, Zwinglian and Calvinist branches. While the breakup of the Protestant movement can be traced along geopolitical lines in the devolution of the Holy Roman Empire, it also divided theologically. Heidelberg reflects that split, particularly over the meaning of the sacrament of communion.
What did Jesus mean when he said, at the Last Supper, "this is my body"? Luther interpreted the words literally and thus argued that Christ is literally present in the bread of communion. Zwingli understood it metaphorically arguing that Jesus could not have meant this bread is literally my body when he was, in fact, bodily present in the room. Calvin took a third tack, arguing that Christ is spiritually present in the elements of communion. That classic Reformed perspective is reflected in the liturgy of our time when the officiant says "set aside these common elements for a sacred purpose."
On such distinctions churches split and empires rise or fall.
In addition to articulating a Reformed sacramental theology, Heidelberg stresses the essential Reformed commitment to stewardship as a way of living. We are saved, the catechism stresses, in order to serve the purposes of God in the world. As such, how we use the resources at our disposal is a reflection of God at work in our lives.
Here's a taste of the catechism, which opens with this question and response:

Q. 1. What is your only comfort, in life and in death?

A. That I belong--body and soul, in life and in death--not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, who at the cost of his own blood has fully paid for all my sins and has completely freed me from the dominion of the devil; that he protects me so well that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that everything must fit his purpose for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.

Q & A, part 1

Q: What's a catechism?
A: Well, according to,
(kăt'ĭ-kĭz'əm) pronunciation
  1. A book giving a brief summary of the basic principles of Christianity in question-and-answer form.
  2. A manual giving basic instruction in a subject, usually by rote or repetition.
  3. A body of fundamental principles or beliefs, especially when accepted uncritically: “the core of the catechism of the antinuclear left, the notion that the threat to peace is technological, not political” (George F. Will).
  4. A close questioning or examination, as of a political figure.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Hope and the News

Last Friday I walked in procession with 3,000 or so folks from 48 states gathered in DC to witness for peace. It was cold, snowy and windy as we walked three miles from the National Cathedral to the White House. As we walked we sang songs -- Amazing Grace, Down by the Riverside, O Beautiful for Spacious Skies.
I was with a friend who remembered verse two:
O beautiful for pilgrim feet, whose stern, impassioned stress
a thoroughfare for freedom beat across the wilderness
America! America! God mend thine every flaw,
confirm thy soul in self control, thy liberty in law.
I don't think they sing that verse in the White House these days, where they acknowledge no flaws yet flout many laws as it suits them.
As is so often that case, the paper of record hereabouts failed in its coverage of the event. Oh, sure, the Post got most of the facts right in its story. But facts are not the same thing as truth.
For the paper to have told the truth, it would have had to report that Jim Wallis spoke truth to power or that the faithful gave a rousing ovation to the offering call or that the pulpit at Ebenezer Baptist in Atlanta is filled by a worthy successor to Dr. King, and continues to be a beacon of hope. Don't believe me; check the video of the service at the Cathedral's web site.
To get it right, at the very least, the Post would need to have published a photo like the one here, from the Cathedral's web site, rather than the scary looking tattooed man who made a striking photo, to be sure, of an easily dismissed peace movement.