Because I, your Swedish-German American blogger, marched in a St. Patrick's Day parade last Saturday, I'm sort of done with Irish celebrations, so if you're looking for profound St. Patrick wisdom, well, I guess you'll have to look elsewhere this weekend.
Well, wait. Here's a good talk about St. Patrick by Raymond J. Boland, bishop emeritus of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
OK. Now I want to return to some things Emergent Church Movement leader Brian McLaren (pictured here) said a week ago in a talk he gave at Village Presbyterian Church in suburban Kansas City.
I thought Brian did a good job drawing out the main thrust of what Phyllis Tickle had to say in her recent book The Great Emergence, in which she argues that about every 500 years Christianity goes through a major upheaval of some kind -- and now "we're in the midst of one of those 500-year storms that give birth to a new situation," McLaren said.
"We could say it this way: We got from the very early church in the ancient world to the church in the medieval world, then the Dark Ages and then coming into the late Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Reformation and then we come into this modern world."
By the year 500, he notes, the Roman Empire, newly Christianized, had collapsed and the papacy had begun to assume a much more central and powerful role in Christianity. Some 500 years later, the church split into Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, a development sometimes called the Great Schism or Great Divorce -- one that has yet to heal.
About 500 years after that came Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation, which wound up atomizing those who broke away from the Catholic Church. And by atomizing, McLaren said, he means into some 38,000 different recognizable denominations.
So if we are now in the midst of a 500-year storm in Christianity, many people ask, "What will happen to us?" McLaren said.
But he called that the wrong question, one that sounds like it comes from helpless people simply watching events. The better question, he said, is "What needs to happen?" That gives the questioner the opportunity to think about becoming part of the answer.
And it's exactly the question that Christians today should be talking about not only amongst themselves but also in conversation with people of other faiths around the globe.
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CHRISTIANITY, KEEP OUT
A religious leader in Saudi Arabia says there's no place for Christian churches in his country. This is the kind of foolish defensiveness that does nothing but cause trouble around the world for Islam. It makes it appear as if Islam is so weak and uncertain of itself that it can stand no competition. I just don't get why this is necessary.
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THE BOOK CORNER
Abraham: One God, Three Wives, Five Religions, by Frances Worthington. In recent years books about Abraham -- to whom Judaism, Christianity and Islam look as a crucial early figure -- have been numerous. Among them: Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths, by Bruce Feiler, Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith, by Marvin R. Wilson, and Abraham: The First Historical Biography, by David Rosenberg. Worthington's book differs in that it is written from a Baha'i perspective and published by Baha'i Publishing. So here we learn how Abraham is connected not just to Judaism, Christianity and Islam but also to Baha'ism and Babism, the latter founded in the mid-1800s by Mirza Ali Muhammad of Shiraz, recognized by the Baha'i faith as a forerunner to Bahai'sm's founder, Baha' Ullah. I found this perspective intriguing, in that it told me things about Abraham that were new to me or reminded me of things about him I'd forgotten. For instance, the Baha'i faith believes that Abraham's wife Sarah was in fact his aunt. Worthington, a journalist, approaches the subject using an allegorical reading (meaning in harmony with the Alexandrian School of thought) of the Bible. So, for instance, in the biblical story of the sons of Noah finding him drunk and naked in his tent, the story, she insists, is not about a literally drunk and naked man in a tent but about how the man's sons understand his messages from God. Two buy into all that, one doesn't. An allegorical reading also is applied to the story of three men (or angels) visiting Abraham and Sarah so that these three visitors "represent the three Messengers who will be descendants of Isaac -- Moses, Jesus and Baha' Ullah." Well, this is an interesting read for followers of any of the faiths mentioned, offering a different lens through which to understand how important Abraham is to well over half the people of faith on the planet.
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P.S.: Can you help the homeless of KC also have a Spring Break? An organization called Care of Poor People, Inc., is planning just such an event on Saturday, April 7. Here's a story about it and how you can help.
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ANOTHER P.S.: Another Nazi death camp guard is dead. This time it's the infamous John Demjanjuk. Although we may want to shout hurray, as we wanted to when Osama bin Laden died, the more humane and true response is this: "May God have mercy on him, because I probably wouldn't."