Monday, December 29, 2008

Liturgical Dialectics and Our Chalice

For Karl Barth, engineer of the theocentric theology of God’s radical otherness (Let God be God!), the institution of religion in history amounts to little more than self-service – an habitual pat-on-the-back for dutiful worship, quid-pro-quo exchange and works righteousness. HDS Professor Boulton takes up Barth’s position to develop a liturgical critique that he labels ‘God Against Religion’. Scripturally grounded, Boulton provocatively asks: why is there no temple in the Garden of Eden?

Amidst this thorough problematization of religious practice, Boulton excavates a space for divine presence and restorative grace:

God acts to reestablish intimacy and communion with human beings by joining us in our very attempts to break away and apart from God. God worships, and prays, and reconciles with us, precisely in the face of our ongoing turning away.

From a Christian perspective, this ‘God Against Religion’ posture serves as a call for a maieutic approach to church liturgy. As Boulton elucidates,

if Christian worship were organized around the ideas in God Against Religion, it would make for more robustly sacramental worship and more dialectical sacramental forms. For example, Christian baptism involves both a dying and a rising, a going down into the waters of chaos and a rising up out of the waters of the womb. It also involves, I argue, a going down into religion, a classic "initiation" into religion, and, at the same time, an intimate participation in God's own life and resurrection. The dialectic imagery is already built in, and I recommend accentuating it and figuring it as a reminder of the simul [justus et peccator: righteous and sinful]—a compact portrait of Christian life continually dying and rising.

In many ways, the Unitarian Universalist liturgical practice of lighting and extinguishing the chalice involves a similar dialectical movement. Symbolically, the flame embodies both sustaining and destructive properties; fire warms and burns, heats and chars. Thus, the act of kindling and eclipsing the flame simultaneously proclaims the reality of evil and the promise of redemption. In its lighting, the chalice demands reverence before the Spirit of Life, unitary and empowering, as well as the gathering of a community of love. And yet, God must bear witness to human frailty, systemic violence and social inequality. Similarly, the religious community is by no means exempt from hatred and prejudice. After all, the church, too, sins. In extinguishing this dualistic flame, congregants are reminded of both the possibility of bringing about the Kingdom of God on earth and the demanding struggle that such a vision inevitably commands.

1 comment:

Bucky said...

What a good naturalistic metaphor for the dialectic pursuits of engaged theology. I enjoy catching up with your tidbits, Eric, thanks for posting your thoughts man!