by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
If 2017 were a statue we’d tear it down.The past months saw the protest and demolition of Confederate monuments across the nation. They are symbols of oppression. Indeed they are – and yet more. They are symbols of us. America doesn’t understand or value history. We live in “the myth of progress,” and “the age of Authenticity,” to quote current philosophers. Of course only the few draconian violent anti-humanists believe statues of Confederate soldiers and Gen. Robert E. Lee are rally symbols for an ideal “correct past” and the need for a new race war. The rest of us would rather purge history (or at least redact history). I think, however, we fail to learn from history. I am afraid we will repeat history. Old Scrooge did not want to see his past, present, or future. Yet, Charles Dickens used Scrooge’s past-present-future to change how London treated orphans, prisoners, widows, alcoholics, and criminals. British author Os Guinness proposes American educators need a reinvigorated emphasis on history so Americans can reframe their understanding of Freedom, which Guinness thinks has become very very very irresponsible (A Free People’s Suicide, 2012).
Progressive Christians are embarrassed by Christianity’s history – the Crusades and the Inquisition, some disenfranchisement of women and other races. My few progressive Jewish relationships ignore the Bible because of the Jews’ treatment of the Canaanites and the other indigenous peoples who occupied the Promised Land. Understandably, we don’t like it when we are evil. Theologically, we replaced clergy with doctors and therapists, sin with shame and a little bit of “healthy guilt,” and demons with chemical imbalances. But we haven’t solved neurosis and violence. And our prisons are disproportionately filled with black men. The social evolutionary myth of progress responses with “some day in the near future…” all our woes will be overcome with technology and education, while ignoring that the social evolutionary mindset led to Nietzschean ” will to power” and Nazism. We need our history – the good, bad, ugly – and the Bible – good, bad, ugly – so we can learn what not to do. I don’t trust the myth of progress. I’ve seen it lead to despotism and totalitarianism (Communism was based on this myth.)
If 2017 were a statue we’d tear it down. “Let’s forget about cancer, surgeries, statues, racism, sexual assault, tweets, health insurance, KC homocide rates…”
As a pastor, I propose that we need confession – personal but even more so, communal. The village needs confession. Confession recognizes failure. Confession owns up. Confession points the finger at me, you, us. Confession looks down to the ground where we stand and it sees the blood we’ve spilt – Confederate/Union and also down at Linwood Boulevard and Prospect Avenue. Confession consolidates the communities guilt, just as Thanksgiving consolidates our blessings. But in the church Confession also Absolves. The myth of progress as no answer for past evil, just an atrocious “Well, we will get better in the future…” which isn’t fully convinced or satisfying.
What did 2017 teach you? Cancer – life is precious and not an entitlement. Debt – simplicity. The political malaise – violence cannot heal. Forgiveness and contrition heals.
Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you and thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We haven’t loved… the way Jesus loves. We failed to take up our cross. We failed to forgive while hanging on the cross.” The past year goes in the book of life, your life. It adds a page that makes you, the you you are. This cannot be torn down. But it can be prayed. If we do not we will be right back here 365 days from now, hurrying past 2018, trying to tear the statue of 2018.
by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
If you want to lean into Christmas then sing a song! If you want to lean into tradition, then sing an Antiphon! Sing scripture! Antiphons are short praises that surround a Psalm or another selection of scripture. They are like bookends for the text. Everyone says or sings the antiphon before and repeats it after the Psalm. Antiphons help everyone “sync up” with the singing key, the timing, and sometimes balance a Psalm, a prayer, that is angry, violent, or obscure to us because it’s about the Hebrew Temple rites; or an Antiphon “corrects” a passage of scripture by bringing it in line with our lives and times, and the season – in this case, Christmas. Antiphons make sure the people praise God while they sing scripture. And – antiphons can be very beautiful.
Several Lakelanders were at Conception Abbey last weekend for Gen 5 retreat, and most of us pray with the monks during their Divine Hours (the daily office of chanting the Psalms five times a day). Before dinner the monks pray Vespers (comes from the old or middle English, “Venus,” the appearance of the Evening Star), and after several Psalms are prayed, the monks sing Mary’s Song, the Magnificat (Latin for the first words of the Song, “O Magnify…”):
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever. (Lk 1:46-55)
We asked the question, “Why do the prayers change on December 17th?” Beginning December 17, the Catholic church gets serious about Christ’s coming. The have seven Antiphons. Each one begins with “O”:
O Wisdom of our God Most High,
guiding creation with power and love:
come to teach us the path of knowledge!
O Leader of the House of Israel,
giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai:
come to rescue us with your mighty power!
O Root of Jesse’s stem,
sign of God’s love for all his people:
come to save us without delay!
O Key of David,
opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom:
come and free the prisoners of darkness!
O Radiant Dawn,
splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:
come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the
shadow of death.
O King of all nations and keystone of the Church:
come and save man, whom you formed from the dust!
O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law:
come to save us, Lord our God!
—From Catholic Household Blessings & Prayers
Look at the Christmas themes for each day: 17th Wisdom of God in the Old Testament (Proverbs), 18th the Law of Moses, 19th Jesus’ ancestors – Jesse, King David’s father… Jesus!, 20th Key – unlocks the gates of Hell (so to speak), 21st the Dawn, the light has come!, 22nd Christ, King of human meaning, 23rd “Emmanuel” which means “God save us.” We Protestants can be serious about preparing for Christmas too.
This would make a nice table decoration, or mantle decoration: have the kids think up icons or symbols for each theme: Wisdom, Ten Commandments (Law), Promise (lineage), Key, Dawn, King, and Salvation. Can you think of symbols to decorate a centerpiece? How about a paper chain, one link for each? Or here’s an idea: play the Magnificat during dinner or in the evening. Here’s some songs…
Chris Lea & Micah Burdick, The Magnificat (Mary’s Song) Lakeland Community Church
The Magnificat (Mary’s Song)
The Brilliance, Mary’s Lullaby – off the Advent vol. 2 album
Mike Crawford and His Secret Siblings, The Magnificat – Songs from Jacob’s Well, Vol. 1 album
BTW, the feature image is Matisse. I took this photo in the Vatican last month. Matisse always erased and erased and erased – look for his erasure lines in this huge cartoon of Mary and infant Jesus.