I’ll answer that question shortly, but first, a little personal news I’m excited about.
My friend Bob, an Episcopal vicar who lives in New Jersey, is visiting his family and friends in Ohio this week and will stop by my house on Monday for a day or three. That evening we’re going to celebrate Mass at my dining room table, then have what the ancient Greeks called agapé and normal people call dinner!
No matter what you call it, it should be a love feast, because I’m asking him to concelebrate with my spiritual director Marcia. Her husband Ote (pronounced like Oaty) will also attend.
Sixteen months ago when Peter was here from Amsterdam, I found a blue plate at a pottery shop in Berea, Kentucky, which I snapped up because it kinda matches a blue chalice I bought from a potter in New Harmony, Indiana. I’ve always intended that these two vessels for bread and wine be reserved and consecrated for the Eucharist, if I ever got the chance to have a priest come to my house.
This is a big deal when you live in smalltown Indiana as I do; my parish church is two hours away. (One for driving and one for crossing the twilight zone into Eastern Daylight Time.)
I have no way of knowing whether an Episcopal mass has ever been said in my hometown. Maybe we’ll make history, but even if we don’t we’re going to have a good time.
I’m asking Bob to consecrate the plate and cup, and to help Marcia consecrate the bread and wine as the Body and Blood of Christ.
This is a Big Deal to me in every way, because Marcia is a Presbyterian; the theology she comes from is Calvinist, not Catholic. To Bob and me, apostolic succession (a straight line of bishops from Jesus Christ, Peter and Paul to Our Gal Cate™) is crucial. But in the nearly two years I’ve been seeing Marcia, I’m totally convinced of her priesthood, even if she Didn’t Do It Right.
She’s been great for me, and I want her to preside.
(Afterwards we’re having Chicken Cashew, which is basically a stir-fry that won’t take long to throw together so we can feast. During and after dinner I’m hoping we can have a discussion on What Exactly Jesus Has to Offer.)
This is how I’ve phrased it to her: “Why is Christianity a difficult sell in the current American culture?” Or, “What do we have to do to share this Jesus we think so much of, in a spiritually-starving culture that thinks Jesus is morally reprehensible?”
It’s actually the Followers of Jesus who are disapproved of in pop culture, not The Man Himself, but you get my drift.
What’s the problem here in 2010? To me it’s fairly obvious; Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, the Pope and TV preachers are the problem. Guys or gals get on TV, make big bucks and fly in jet planes but make no moral sense whatever.
If they’re the spokesmodels for Jesus, thanks but no thanks.
They’ve turned nearly all GLBT people against Jesus because their message is immoral. As a Gay Christian, that hurts me, but I recognize what we’re up against.
Their message isn’t Jesus’s message, but you’d never know that from TV.
Still, I’m not going to attack fundamentalists here; they’re too easy a target and who’s got time. Instead I say: the problem is TV.
Mass media, YouTube, the internet – but much more, what’s behind them; the willingness of fools to tolerate corporate propaganda (advertising) in exchange for snippets of entertainment.
My dog Luke and I take a walk every evening. Every home we pass has the TV blasting.
So when TV’s what you “consume,” with its invariable corporate propaganda (“Fast food tastes great!” “Bank of America loves you!” “Save now while spending $50,000 for a car!”), Christianity’s self-proclaimed spokesmodels become your version of Jesus.
I’m fully aware that only a crank would blame all the ills of modern society on a household appliance. I mean, that’s just nuts.
The problem isn’t the appliance; it’s the greed and envy of those who turn on the appliance, subject themselves to the propaganda, buy the fast food, trust Bank of America and fantasize about the BMW until they can’t live without it.
The 7 Deadly Sins never vary, though the TV preachers never mention them, being greedy and envious themselves.
This doesn’t leave Episcopalians much room to proclaim an alternate reality.
What Jesus Has to Offer is a way out of the materialism, envy and greed that have taken over pop culture, all so you can be entertained.
The first Christians weren’t capitalists, they were socialists with all goods in common. (Acts 2:44 [NRSV], “All who believed were together, and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”)
Now the corporatists, Tea Partiers, Congresspuppies and preachers want to convince you not to live according to the Way. It’s in their financial interest to argue you out of it.
“Obamacare,” “socialized medicine?” Here’s how capitalized health care works. If you’ve got the capital, you get the health care. If you don’t, you don’t.
Sorry, Grandma. These million-dollar machines cost money.
Yet people stare at their TV screens night after night, absorbing one corporate propaganda campaign after another, in order to get snippets of “entertainment.”
In other words it’s your own damn fault. And I have no sympathy for you whatever.
Any photographer with talent can make a Big Mac look good; but there isn’t anyone who can make it taste good.
You’re eating corn they’ve convinced you tastes like beef. Cattle don’t eat corn, bucko, they eat grass. But that Big Mac is all corn, made to look like beef.
So where does this leave Bob, Marcia, Ote and me in our discussion? We live in a capitalist economy, and it takes money to live. None of us are powerful enough to change that; maybe Jesus himself doesn’t have that power. Here I’m making my little argument as an American, not a Haitian living in a tent camp eight months after the earthquake, wondering if anyone will give her babies bread. (Answer: no.)
I speculate that “Jesus doesn’t have that power” because he wasn’t a politician, but a spiritual leader. So let’s ask; what was his advice? Sure, he’s timeless, but does he have anything to tell us now?
Does he have anything at all of value to tell us in 2010 in Barack Obama’s (or Sarah Palin’s) America?
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
He doesn’t say, “Blessed are the rich.
“Blessed are those for whom money takes the place of God.
“Blessed are those who exploit and poison the earth.
“Blessed are those who game the system for their profit.
“Blessed are those who watch corporate propaganda as if it’s entertaining.
“Blessed are those who think they’re saving money by spending more of it.
“Blessed are those who tout private property instead of feeding the hungry and housing the poor.
“Blessed are those who distort my teachings for their own profit.
“Blessed are those who scapegoat others who live on the other side of the river, the mountain or the sea.
“Blessed are those who buy lobbyists so they can get contracts.
“Blessed are those who lie, cheat and steal in my Name.
“Blessed are those who make war.
“Blessed are those who think they’re morally superior.
“Blessed are those who distort science.
“Blessed are those who testify one way, then hire rentboys when no one is looking.
“Blessed are those who exploit the poor and call themselves successful.
“Blessed are those who downsize and rob the children of bread.
“Blessed are those who carry guns.
“Blessed are those who lie on TV.
“Blessed are those who watch it.
“Blessed are those who say they are spiritual but aren’t.
“Blessed are those who fill their minds with excrement and call it ice cream.”
Jesus never said a one of those things. You know it and I do. He wouldn’t have been caught dead saying one of them.
And that is why, despite the current unpopularity of the Way, I humbly and sincerely believe Jesus was right, even the Son of God; and why I do not believe Robertson, Falwell or the Pope, even though they’re on TV.
Look at your own life, understand why you’re so unhappy with how you spend your time that you’ll sit through hours of corporate propaganda – “Bank of America, which got billions in bailouts of your tax money, loves you!” – for mere glances at celebs.
They’re not worth following; Jesus is.++