An outing to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

We had absolutely gorgeous weather here today, so my beloved wife and I decided to take a trip up to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on the campus of Catholic University and reputedly the largest Catholic Church in North America. The church is a Byzantine-Romanesque hybrid style with many side chapels on both the upper and crypt level. It’s hard to get good pictures of the interior, and seemed a bit irreverent to boot, but here are a few shots:

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Here’s a nice set of shots from flickr.

Hymn for the day

Not the one we actually sang today, but I like this one better:

Jesus Christ Is Risen Today

Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!
our triumphant holy day, Alleluia!
who did once upon the cross, Alleluia!
suffer to redeem our loss. Alleluia!

Hymns of praise then let us sing, Alleluia!
unto Christ, our heavenly King, Alleluia!
who endured the cross and grave, Alleluia!
sinners to redeem and save. Alleluia!

But the pains which he endured, Alleluia!
our salvation have procured, Alleluia!
now above the sky he’s King, Alleluia!
where the angels ever sing. Alleluia!

Saved by theology

So, today at church I was roped in to assisting with communion at the last minute, something I’ve never done before. I was distributing the wine, which we do by pouring it from a chalice into tiny plastic cups that people take from a tray on their way to the altar rail. However, if, for whatever reason, they prefer to receive grape juice instead of wine, they take pre-filled cups from the tray.

I was a bit uncertain and nervous, trying to avoid spilling the Savior’s blood all over the place and whatnot, and forgot to say “the blood of Christ shed for you” when passing by some of the people with the grape juice-filled cups. This caused me to worry that somehow I’d “invalidated” their reception of communion, until our vicar reminded me that, in any event, receiving in one kind is sufficient. A good example of how sound theology can make up for human incompetence–mine in this case.


Good post and discussion at Derek’s on “ecclessial infallibility.” I’ve long had the suspicion that infallibility, whether papal, ecclesial, or scriptural, really doesn’t do any work. But I’ve been unable to articulate this to my own satisfaction. Maybe a future post.

Christ’s ambiguous reign and living in hope

Yesterday, of course, was Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the liturgical year before we head into Advent. The pastor at our church delivered an excellent sermon on the different aspects of Christ’s kingship and how we can become aware of them in our lives. Jesus reigns over all things, but he reigns as the crucified one – the one who transfigures the symbols of kingship and is present to us as the one who forgives our sins (the gospel text speaks to this with special power).

This ambiguity in Christ’s lordship is one that I think we’re often tempted to eliminate in one direction or the other. The more common is to see Christ as an earthly ruler writ large, and to downplay, or ignore, the way he transfigures our ideas of kingship. On the other hand, in some recent theology, the emphasis has been laid so heavily on Christ’s weakness and his solidarity in suffering that the Resurrection and his triumphant reign seems to get lost.

It doesn’t seem right to say that the Resurrection simply undoes the crucifixion, as though it didn’t reveal anything special or new about God. But it does imply that self-giving love is also backed up with ultimate power. The death of Christ isn’t simply a case of a beautiful soul ground under the wheels of an unforgiving universe: it reveals what the universe, at bottom, rests upon and what will ultimately triumph.

Holding these two aspects of Christ’s sovereignty – power revealed in weakness and his status as the one for whom “all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers” – isn’t easily done. Maybe this is another facet of living in between the times, but it’s hard not to chafe at what looks for all the world like Christ’s failure to exercise his rule over our world. I don’t think it’s sufficient to say that Christ doesn’t exercise his power that way, since we believe that he will, in some mysterious and unimaginable way, end creation’s rebellion against his rule.

Believing in Christ’s kingship means that we believe in both his present and future reigns, and yet those reigns are different, at least in the way things appear to us. In this age his reign appears partial at best, while creation groans for its redemption. And it’s hard for us (or at least for me) to believe in that reign, and to experience it, as a concrete reality. This is one more reason, I guess, why hope is a Christian virtue: we believe not merely in an unseen reality, but that this unseen reality will – someday – manifest itself in a final and definitive way.

Bishop of Glasgow and Galloway on the current Anglican unpleasantness

I don’t typically comment on the doings of the Anglican Communion (I’m at best a part-time Episcopalian and you can get plenty of that stuff elsewhere), but I thought this address by the Primate of the Scottish Episcopal Church was good. Maybe it’s just the Scotsman in me that’s partial to it. 😉

Questions for Lutherans (and others)

Thomas at Without Authority posted recently on the raison d’etre of Protestant denominations. He raised the idea, favored by Lutheran theologians like Jenson and Braaten that Lutheranism is, in essence, a reforming movement within the church catholic.

My question, especially to Lutheran readers, is this: Do you still regard the gospel of justification by faith as the “article by which the church stands or falls”? If so, how do you understand that? And do you see this being lived out in your church (or the church at large)?

I ask because if the purpose of Lutheranism, as a reforming movement, is to share this insight with the rest of the church, I am by no means convinced that this is what most Lutheran churches are doing, or see themselves doing. And if they’re not, what is the justification (pardon the pun) for their existence? (I should note that I’m speaking here mostly about ELCA churches because those are the ones I’m familiar with, but I’d also be interested in hearing the observations of LCMS or other Lutheran readers.)

Bishops behaving badly

Jack Spong publicly insults Rowan Williams and Nigerian bishop Isaac Orama says that gay and lesbian people are “not fit to live.” Of course, the former is merely bad taste while the latter is a moral monstrosity.

UPDATE: I should note that doubt has been cast on whether Bp. Orama in fact said the things attributed to him. The UPI has pulled the story a spokesman for the Anglican Church of Nigeria has said that Orama denies making the comments in question. See here for more.

Bono fatigue

I was reading this somewhat interesting piece on “emergent” Christians in Austin, TX and found myself pondering a deep mystery: why are all these post-evangelical, post-conservative, post-modern, post-whatever Christians so into U2?

“For the emerging churches, (church is) not a place, it’s a people,” Gibbs said. “It’s not a weekly gathering; it’s a seven-day-a-week community. And you don’t go to church; you are the church.”

That doesn’t mean emerging Christians have turned their back on observing the sabbath, but their services are a far cry from what many grew up with. They might use literature and poetry in the liturgy or play U2 and Van Morrison songs before and after the service.


Charles Whitmire, pastor of Crestview Baptist Church, began noticing that the young professionals moving into the church’s North Austin neighborhood would rather go for a bike ride on Sunday morning than sing “The Old Rugged Cross” with a congregation where the median age is 70.

So with his members’ support, he established Phoenix Church of Austin earlier this year. Whitmire leads the evening services in the sanctuary, and his first service included references to Bono and David Letterman and featured a driving rock band. Whitmire, an avid cyclist and screenwriter who fits the demographic he’s trying to reach, had bumper stickers made up that said “Make Church Weird.”

I don’t really have an opinion one way or the other on the value of the whole emergent/emerging church thing. A lot of it seems to me to be a kind of intra-evangelical dispute with younger people breaking away from the bland megachurches and Republican politics of their elders. So, I take it that part of what it’s trying to do is to appeal to “da yoots.”

Hence my question: what’s the deal with all the U2? U2 is old people’s music! (By which I mean music enjoyed by people my age.)

I mean, I like U2 as much as the next guy (well, some of their stuff, anyway), but are they really that big among people, say, under the age of 25? (This is not a purely rhetorical question; maybe they are.)

Part of the whole U2 obsession (extending even into the stolid mainline with “U2charists” and the like) no doubt has to do with Bono’s status as vaguely Christian global do-gooder. And, yes, you can find all kinds of religious themes and references in U2’s music. But I can’t help but wonder whether gen-x goateed “emergent” pastors aren’t doing the same thing that Baby Boomer evangelicals did: projecting their ideas of what’s cool onto the young people they’re ministering to. All the facial hair, tatoos, grunge-y rock, candles, and angst – it’s sooo 1990s, people!

On the other hand, if someone wants to put on a Killswitch Engage eucharist, I might be interested…

Church shopping: update

I know I said earlier that we were thinking of reverting to Lutheranism, but after a couple of visits I have a feeling we’re going to end up at St. Paul’s Episcopal on K Street, a venerable Anglo-Catholic parish.

For me this is less about a particualr form of churchmanship than what seems to be a vibrant parish centered around Word and Sacrament, committed to beautiful and reverent worship, and serious about Christian formation and discipleship. Plus, the peoeple we’ve met have been very friendly and welcoming (even after learning that we’ve just come from the Church of the Advent in Boston who recently “stole” St. Paul’s Director of Music!).

If we end up here I think it may be time for me to consider being received into the Episcopal Church. I was never confirmed in the Lutheran Church (though I was a member of different congregations – I’m not exactly sure what the distinction is in the ELCA), and it seems like maybe I should commit to a church body. Obviously the Episcopal Church has its problems, but I can’t helpf but feel somewhat dishonest about continuing to be nourished by parish life without committing in a more formal way. Also, my theology has shifted in some ways that make Lutheranism somewhat less congenial than it once was (even though I still strongly affirm certain central Lutheran insights). I guess we’ll see…