In the last few weeks I have had occasion to call:
• the dentist, to check on an appointment time;
• several appliance stores, to select a replacement for a dead dishwasher;
• several furniture stores, finally to replace a desk made of an old door and two orange crates that has served me for more than two decades;
• an automobile service center, to arrange a time for a visit;
• a specialist food shop, to see if they sold buckwheat pasta,
• and a bank to order a new supply of checks.
One might well wonder what all these diverse enterprises had in common? It will probably surprise no one to learn that it is the opening response when the ‘phone, in a manner of speaking, is picked up. “Please listen carefully as our Menu options have changed”. What lies behind this all but universal practice? Perhaps it is a following of restaurant practice where the menu changes with the seasons. Or is it to keep busy the tech member of staff who has not got enough to do? One wonders if there are firms dedicated to reorganizing business menus on a weekly/ monthly schedule for a moderate fee, and, of course, the first three months free. Whatever the reason I find it highly irritating, especially when the process descends into a sub-menu, followed by further refining of issues, (for Windows press 1; for Mac press 2 » for installation press 6; for other problems press 7; to speak with one of our Technicians, press '0'. This, needless to say, is a very truncated version. Furthermore, if you do not have 45 minutes to spare, don’t bother pressing '0').
New Menus Welcome
Irritating as all this, there is, perhaps, one place where one would be overjoyed to hear the announcement. What if I ‘phoned Church House Westminster, or Lambeth Place and was told to “listen carefully”? How much more significant and heartening it would be if the same message was heard on placing a call to the Vatican and by pressing 2, you were directed to the “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith”. Possibly, getting to the center of the Orthodox Churches, if there be such a place as the “Center” for Orthodoxy, would require many ‘phone calls, and even less obvious is how one could reach some central Office of Ultra Conservative Evangelicals (OUCE) given the fissiparous nature of American Christian evangelical communities. But what a joy it would to be informed of a “new menu”.
If, mirabile dictu, one heard, “Please listen carefully because our menu has been updated to take note of developments in the following fields of human endeavor: historical research; scientific discoveries; the psychology of human beings; the nature of sexuality, and the status of Dogma", what a cause for rejoicing it would be.
Change, and Two Kinds of "New"
Before considering what would such a new menu look/sound like, we might focus briefly on the word ‘change’. When I hear “the menu has changed”, I do not expect to learn of an entirely new service, treatment, or technique that has been added; rather, the internal connections of the system have been shuffled around. As is often the case, the Greek language gives greater precision: it distinguishes the two kinds of change. Neos means a new configuration of the old; kainos, on, the other hand, means something entirely, dramatically new. St. Paul illustrates this well when he writes, “If anyone is in Christ there is a new (kainos) creation.” (II Cor. 5.16). In general, people find this second kind of change unsettling and tend to reject it: better just to re-arrange the deck chairs.
Change as Universal
William Bouwsma in his book The Waning of the Renaissance 1550-1640 has some interesting reflections on the anxiety caused in that period by the discovery that change, since classical times, understood to be a characteristic of earthly existence (as opposed to the perfection of the heavens) – “birth, copulation and death” – was “now discerned even in the heavens…Galileo’s discovery of sunspots was especially troubling. These, he demonstrated, ‘are generated and decay in longer and shorter periods’…The growing acceptance of change was, for many, the reverse of reassuring” (122).
Bouwsma goes on to suggest that this increasing anxiety, particularly about human mutability and frailty, was part of a growing discontent that in turn generated calls for reform: “Widespread complaints about the times often implied the possibility, even the urgency, of setting things right”. (127). He closes with a remark that is particularly germane to our consideration of a possible new ‘phone menu for Christianity: “Much reformist sentiment was also still focussed on the church, though, unlike the Protestant reformers of an earlier generation, reform proposals were now chiefly institutional rather than theological, and often politically motivated”. (128)
Opposition to Change
We are all too well aware of the ploy that presents cosmetic ‘touch ups’ as a grappling with some of the deeply troubling and important questions that have been raised both by the advance of historical research and our vastly increased knowledge of the universe, questions that raise more questions than they provide answers. This process is deeply worrying to the conservative mind and usually elicits hostility to the questioners, for example:
Galileo and the Curia;
Huxley and Bishop Wilberforce;
Loisy and the framers of the ‘anti-modernist’ oath.
Most pertinent are new stances of the Canadian and USA Anglican churches based on a serious consideration of advances (dangerous word – euphemism for evolution?) in historical, cultural scientific, psychological and biblical research, which have elicited violent regressive opposition from GAFCON and many similar bodies with an increasing number of acronyms. The possibility that the Holy Spirit, the divine creative force as experienced in human affairs, could be pushing us fully to accept Paul’s cry “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave nor free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”, (Gal. 3.28) is brushed aside as mere accommodation to secular humanism. Paul’s foundational statement amplifies and makes quite specific what he says in his “second” letter to Corinth: “in Christ there is a kainos creation”, that is, not just a re-writing of Genesis chs. 1-3, but a whole new narrative. The divine push is fully to accept this and honestly work out its consequences for Christian faith and practice, not to treat the saying as open to cosmetic treatment, deck chair re-arranging, or to exegetical conjuring.
New Menu for Christians
What would a new menu sound like after we had been told to listen carefully? Clearly, given the myriad gradations of position among Christians resisting change in the name of tradition or an inerrant bible or political positions, and usually a mix of all these things, it is impossible to produce a neat three-course menu. However, one might hope to hear something along these lines.
Please listen carefully because we have a brand new (kainos) Menu.
For issues of Belief, Faith and Dogma - dial one;
For various new approaches to the ethical dilemmas we face - dial two;
There is no need to prolong this list, which might go on to “dial 20” or beyond, taking us to Liturgy, Canon Law, Ecumenism, Ecclesiology, Hagiology…
So I will pursue for a little way the sub menu that is heard upon dialing one, issues of faith and Dogma.
For a complete survey and re-consideration of the development of Doctrine since 150 C.E. -
For a discussion of the growing acceptance of the need for historical criticism of the biblical documents, leading to a reassessment of the dogma of biblical inerrancy - dial 2;
For cogent reasons for abandoning the dogma of the absolute uniqueness of Christianity -
For the case for rejecting the supposed incompatibility between Science and Religion - dial 4; [For the specific issues of evolution and creationism – wait for a representative. Note: your conversation may be recorded for entry into THE Book];
For the systematic undermining of Vatican II in the last twenty years or so (of interest not only to Roman Catholics) - dial 5.
The list would be much longer, but one gets weary of endless menus. One thing is fairly likely though.
At some point you will be told to press ‘0’ if you wish to consult with an Arch Angel and if you want a message from the Most High you will be directed to “Stay on the line and keep silent”.