Cardinal Kasper described ecumenism as work that is “not done at the desk.” “Dialogue is life,” he said. “Dialogue is an integral part of the life of the Church.”
Kasper speaking at another recent event: “There cannot be any ecumenism without profound conversion; conversion not understood as conversion to a different church, but conversion understood in a much more fundamental and original sense as conversion to Jesus Christ, because he is the way, the truth and the life.”
Mulling. Back later.
Nothing too significant is coming to mind, I’m afraid. The Cardinal strikes me as a good and sincere man, and I’ll certainly get behind his four recommendations. But as one of my old camp counselors was fond of pointing out, whenever someone tried to cool down a heated discussion: “Paul disagreed with Peter.”
I don’t know much about Kasper myself, to tell the truth. I came across this item announcing his retirement, and the phrase ‘dialogue is life’ struck a chord. Of course, it’s the kind of expression that needn’t mean very much and will reliably speak to people with temperaments like mine.
I found a forum or a blog or something, that same day, where somebody who hasn’t found the cardinal Catholic enough during his tenure accuses him of putting dialogue before Jesus. (Jesus, as you may know, having most likely never himself said anything like ‘dialogue is life,’ but being boldly on record with that divine declaration ‘I am the life.’) Ignorant to the point of silliness, yes; at the same time, though, to the extent that what’s reflected in this Kasper-detractor’s complaint is a serious suspicion, held typically by people who self-identify as conservatives, that real conversation with those we’re in conflict with over the gospel is tantamount to legitimizing falsehoods, the complaint serves me as a prod to maybe lend Kasper’s platitudinous nod to ‘dialogue’ a second glance.
What I’d like to think is, for the cardinal there’s some basic connection between the Church’s being premised in Christ’s own divine uniqueness & authority among us, on one hand, and her realizing faintly, unsteadily, but with peculiar persistence and distinction through her history, a flourishing in speech & listening that gradually, irreversibly raises the bar on human self-expectation, on the other. Because Jesus is the life, something about what human life-with-other-humans means becomes measurably clearer in time, by way of the Church’s passage through it for a few millenia. A hell of a claim to make, especially with the Catholic institution scraping its own shit off its shoes at every step these days. But it would be an exciting way to think about being Christian.
Tangentially related: John W. Morehead is a guy I follow a bit, because one of his larger concerns is Christian dialogue with new religious movements. He happily hikes around “post-Christian” USA and seems to take a great deal of pleasure in just listening to Wiccans and pagans and what-have-yous — religions I’ve associated from childhood with the occult, and thus to be kept at a distance beyond arm’s length. He wrote some thoughts on apologetics, here.
I’ve become kind of skittish about this word apologetics and all discussion of persuasive methodology as a demand of Christian mission, I have to say. Particularly wary of all the cleverness about getting underneath & around & over the rationalist box of the Western mind, for the purpose of getting the Christian message a hearing.
It seems to me that we ought to listen to people just because people and their ways are infinitely worthy of attention. No more rationale’s required than to say that you can learn a lot from other people. And it seems to me good to give deep consideration to ‘worldviews’ alternative to your own because religions & languages & aesthetics & social orders & so on are full of meaning; they illuminate the world & its construction, if you can get a close look at them. And that illumination is an unalloyed good all by itself. But it seems doubtful to me that a Christian really does the Christian thing by taking this listening & studying and then appropriating it to some new preparation of the gospel formula for target audience X. That’s not the right way to think about listening to & studying the human & cultural subject, I think. It’s also not the right way to think about the gospel message, though.
When I hear the talk about discovering how to get outside the Western box, how to know the limits of our own ‘traditional’ ways of thinking, in the sphere of Christian mission, now, I can’t help making a connection to international engagement (including, in some cases, wars in which the West has gotten caught up around the world) at the level of states & institutions, and the persistent uncertainty about whether ‘those people’ can be expected to adapt to ‘our ideals’ of liberal government & open society & so on. We mistake our own relation to liberal values, in this instance. The liberal project isn’t our achievement to take to the rest of humanity. It’s something we have continually to grasp at; and our grasping at it comes to embrace our engagement with other societies — in which we find that they also have the same thing to grasp at with us.
In a similar way, we misconstrue Christian mission if we see a package, merely, for which we’re bound to come up with delivery systems — where apologetics is sort of a tactical component, a matter of problem-solving in the communications department. Here we’ve mistaken our own relation to the Christian message. In fact, it’s basic to this Christian message that Christ himself is regarded as the one speaking in the world, and we first of all not as his mouthpieces but as his audience. Our overwhelming communications problem is to hear him. Listening & being in dialogue with others, from the Christian view, is an effect of our being progressively reconfigured for engagement, first, with the Word whose being underlies the existence & meaningfulness of all things. The fault to be addressed in us isn’t so much our various blind attachments to rationalism or other features of the Western box, though that proposition may be good material for reflection & discussion. (Still, I’m not so sure we have any idea how to diagnose this, really, or can even be sure of our term rationalism.) The fault to be addressed in us, I think, is that old biblical idea, ‘hardness of heart.’
We’re in the prairies right now, catching up with family. At the local book store I picked up a copy of Rhoda Janzen’s memoir, Mennonite In A Little Black Dress. She’s an academic who, after a hellish life-interruption, limped back to her Mennonite family and re-tooled some of her deeper roots.
My father contrasted this narrative approach with some of the stuff he’s been reading, including an account by a guy who considers himself intellectually persuaded to the Anabaptist view of things. Dad can get quite excited by this (can’t we all?). I realized, and said, that I was no longer sure how to “read” such accounts, chiefly because I couldn’t quite envision what would have to happen to “convert” me from what I am into what I might/ought to be — or, more accurately, what would have to happen to prompt me to announce to one and all that I had fundamentally changed.
Morehead recently linked to someone evangelical who said it was deceitful to engage in a conversation with someone you hoped to influence, if you weren’t willing to be influenced by the conversation as well. If someone links to a sentiment like that, but remains unapologetic about his use of apologetics, I have to admit to being curious.
Besides, I’m having trouble navigating this whole “Post-Christian Society” confusion — which probably isn’t helped by the naive misnomer itself.
Your father & Janzen’s seem to be on the same wavelength — did you catch that in the NYT piece? ‘It’s not the kind of book I would have written, and I think there will be Mennonites who will be wondering why you don’t explain more about theology.’
Maybe success of that expression ‘post-Christian’ has nothing behind it so much as the restless Christian search for new apologetics angles. — ha
I’m not usually an emoticon kinda guy, but …
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