Thursday, February 7, 2008

Court Theologians and the Novum

Thinking this afternoon as I slogged on the treadmill, matching steps to the dialogue on Ellen's show, about those theologians Walter Brueggemann calls "court theologians." Brueggmann characterizes the theologians who persecuted and sought to silence the prophets of Judaism court theologians. Court theologians excuse and assist those who wield unjust power over others. They're the hired guns of the powers that be.

They exist in every age.

For those who are LGBT, as with all those who live on the margins, the voice that keeps luring us forward is not the voice that justifies what presently exists, but the the voice that sketches what Brueggemann and other theologians call the novum. These are the theologians who point us to a horizon of hope as the goal of history, a horizon continuous with this world and what happens in it. These are the theologians who urge us to build a more just, inclusive, humane world here and now, because we can glimpse the outlines of such a world in our dreams of the future.

Jesus stood in that prophetic tradition. And following in his footsteps and those of the prophets have been witnesses upon witnesses, pointing to the novum, calling us to live in hope, building a better world, collaborating with anyone else who catches this vision, whether that person be friend or foe, believer or infidel. Francis of Assisi was such a prophetic figure: he went, after all, into a mosque to pray. And he found God there.

I, think today, though, especially of Julian of Norwich, who speaks so tenderly of Mother Jesus: "The mother may give her child to suck her milk, but our precious Mother Jesus, he may feed us with himself, and does full courteously and full tenderly," says Julian.

In speaking of God's maternal concern for us, Julian transcends the medieval period and becomes prophetically pertinent to Christianity today--at a moment in which some forces within the Christian churches seek to make an idol out of maleness, to propose that the revelation that God as male is part and parcel of the unchangeable revelation of Jewish and Christian faith.

Julian's present pertinence was evident when the current Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of the U.S. used Julian's phrase "Mother Jesus" several years ago.
When Katharine Jefferts Schori quoted Julian, she was immediately attacked by . . . traditionalists. She was attacked by the same people who have been telling the churches that they are the sole, unilateral guardians of The Tradition.

Suddenly, a quite traditional citation from a woman who has been declared Blessed by the Roman Catholic church became controversial, a feminist warping of the scriptures that has a political agenda attached to it. Suddenly, the same traditionalists who have been safeguarding (so they claim) the very jot and tittle of every verse in scripture and tradition began to engage in acrobatic exegetical exercises to explain what Julian "really" meant when she spoke of Jesus as the Divine Mother.

The tradition holds far more options than the court theologians would like us to believe. Some of those options continue to point us towards a novum that is more just and inclusive than the status quo for which court theologians are prepared to fight tooth and nail. The voices we on the margins listen for today are not those seeking to preserve the world as it is for those they are hired to serve. The voices we seek to hear point us towards a novum much richer with promise of justice than the present in which we live--and those voices often speak surprisingly out of a bible and tradition that the court theologians and their masters have done all in their power to tame and sanitize.


colkoch said...

Bill, sometimes I'm just amazed at serendipitous occurences. This morning I was reading a response from a poster on the NCR who praised Mary Ann Glendon, George Weigel, and Fr. John Neuhas for the fidelity to Christ. I'm like no, it's their fidelity to their pay checks. However, you put it much better with this line:

"The voices we on the margins listen for today are not those seeking to preserve the world as it is for those they are hired to serve."

I'd much rather read a blogger doing his/her writing from their own passion, whatever political stripe, than one of the paid hired guns.

Thank God for the internet.

William D. Lindsey said...

Say it ain't so, colkoch! You mean to tell me there are still court theologians hanging around today?!


colkoch said...

I can think of at least three off the top of my head. :) ----and you aren't one of them.