Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Anne Rice, Loosed and Bound

I first read about Anne Rice (author of Interview with a Vampire and sequels, as well as a coupe of historical novels about Jesus, one being Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt) leaving Christianity, but not Christ, behind on my Twitter feed from the USA Today religion blog Faith & Reason (original post here). I was at the end of a week of teaching at church camp so I didn't see other reactions, but they are out there. Pretty Good Lutherans ran a nice column with it that included several bloggers' reactions and a fairly hefty number of comments follow that show Rice's move has hit a nerve. What about community? How does one follow Christ without the community? I am sure that Rice is feeling loosed from the chains that have bound her, as she has no doubt struggled with what seems like the bondage of social teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

At Pretty Good Lutherans, Pastor Joelle Coville-Hanson is quoted from her blog's article,
“But Jesus calls us to community,” Coville-Hanson wrote. “Not a perfect community, but a community of sinners. You don’t get to pick what sinners you will be associated with and which ones you won’t.”
But my friend Mike, over at his blog Catholic Anarchy comments in 'Anne Rice "quits Christianity"',
The “you’re in or you’re out” view of ecclesiology will no longer cut it. The boundaries of the church are fluid and we cannot limit it to “Christianity’s” often tired institutional forms, as important as they might be. Sounds to me like she has left “Christianity” but is still very much attached to the Body of Christ. May she find peace wherever she finds “church” to be.
I resonate with both veins of thinking. I do think if she has faith in Christ, salvation will indeed happen. But to willingly cut herself off from the body of Christ I wonder if her faith in Christ is not somehow lacking. After all, there are few of us who would willingly exile ourselves to a desert island, no matter how bad we might think the other nutjobs around us are. If we want to leave Christianity but not Christ behind, what do we do with the Lord's Supper? That is specifically a meal for the community. I cannot help but think of numerous hymns for communion that are simply first person plural, like the old chestnut "Let Us Break Bread Together."

I know that Rice is reacting in many ways against the apparent heavy-handedness of the magisterium. She doesn't want to be anti-gay, anti-science, anti-whatever. But I find that really interesting since the Roman Catholic Church is not some monolithic block of thinking. Despite official church teaching, there is, as one colleague put it at ecumenical conference I attended, "a long history of ignoring directives from HQ" in the Roman Catholic Church.

But if we leave Christianity behind, how do figure out our lives of faith? Am I just left to my own thoughts? Please Lord, save me from that. I have screwed that up in my own life too often. I rationalized too many things as acceptable. I need a call to a new life and how do I know? Jesus promises that where two are three are, there he is in the midst of them. That promise has almost nothing to do with the size of our worship gathering and everything to do with our discerning the character of our discipleship. The theologian John Howard Yoder has written about this idea in many places. In a study entitled "Practicing the Rule of Christ" he writes about the discernment and character of the Church.
The Greek word ekklesia ("church") is found only twice in the Gospels coming from Jesus' lips; the two times are the two "bind and loose" passages. The word ekklesia itself... does not refer to a specifically religious meeting or to a particular organization; rather it means the "assembly," the gathering of people into a meeting for deliberation or for a public announcement. It is no accident that in Matthew 16 the assignment by Jesus of the power to bind and loose follows directly upon Peter's first confession of Christ as Messiah. The confession is the basis of the authority; the authorization given is the seal upon the confession. The church is where, because Jesus is confessed as Christ, men and women are empowered to speak to one another in God's name.
There is the truly sad part. Rice, and anyone else who follows this path of leaving Christianity but not Christ, does indeed miss the radical call to discipleship that Jesus brings to each of our lives. More importantly however, we lose her voice as one empowered to speak to us in God's name. I understand that the hierarchy in the Roman Catholic Church makes that speaking out difficult, but with the greater understanding of the Body of Christ, it is not. Here I am reminded of Pope John Paul II comment from his statement on ecumenism Ut Unum Sint that the divided Church is like one lung breathing. I would argue the case is the same here. When dissenting voices do not love the offending brother or sister or authority enough to speak out and enter discernment and seek reconciliation and true repentance from everyone, the Church is lacking something. The Church and Rice as well, remain bound, in the brokenness of our existence.

1 comment:

Jonathan Neiderhiser said...

I appreciate your take on this issue. It is always frustrating to see believers abandon the Church because of ways that a particular minister/congregation/
synod/denomination has failed to model Christ. To say that all of Christianity is "anti-gay," "anti-women," and everything else that Rice claims is to miss the purpose of the church -- that we are to love one another as Christ has loved us. Apparently, Rice does not see this love at work in her context. A pity.