Friday, October 24, 2008

Editorial: God is in the Cheez-Itz

Since the original purpose of this blog was a specific kind of journalism, I suppose it would behoove me to write occasionally about an actual event. So, that being said, the recent Interfaith Church Crawl was a rousing, if rather extended epic, success. A group of over 20 people listened to a short talk in each of three sacred spaces: Masjid An-Nur, Temple Israel, and St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral.

What made it worth going, though, was when the Jewish organizer of the event said, "We really don't need any more Christians" regard to that faith's over- representation in the program.

Beyond that, the three talks, each by a member of the downtown clergy, described the sacred space each Abrahamic faith incorporates into religious life.

The Islamic faith creates a sacred space around each of its adherents. The worship area denotes a small space around each person specifically for prayer and standing, bowing, and prostrating. To my idiotically small understanding of Islam, this makes sense as the five pillars center around individual practice and individual devotion.

This is not to say that Islam cannot generate communities of faith- quite the opposite, the nation of Islam considering- but it is to say that its theological intention of Islam is the submission of the individual before God. Prayer may be stronger in groups, teaching and instruction occur in groups, but the basic building unit of Islam is the individual believer.

Temple Israel, alternatively, denotes sacred space in a different fashion, and for a different reason. That is to say that it does not center on the person at all. Everything in the sanctuary of the Temple- yep, they use the word sanctuary, too- orients one not toward the practice of prayer but to the center of the service: which is, of course, the five scrolls of the Torah.

A hint to what I mean: because the scrolls are all that matter, anyone can read them. There are no clergy among the (reformed) Jews, we learn. There are only professional Jews. Faithful Jewish observers emphasize the text so much that memorization takes second seat to reading one's marriage vows aloud.

Christian sacred space seemed a bit harder to describe, but I believe that we got there anyway. Because we got into an extended discourse on the apostolic succession and the communion between Anglican and Catholic bishops. Now this may seem a pedantic point, and, as I said to the Vicar, "but it's quintessentially Christian to exaggerate trivial distinctions to the point of absurdity."

Morever, it only matter because nothing matters more to Christianity that the body of its believers. The building block of Christianity is not now and never has been the individual but has always been the ecclesia, the body of believers per the example of Paul's letters. So disputes about who is holy and who is allowed to do what end up mattering a very great deal.

As I said in an aside, "There is no holier space than the space between us." In other words, Christians sit in pews. All in a row, all in the same overturned boat. "Wherever two or more are gathered in my name, there am I..." We could just as easily have gone to Chipotle and broken out our Bibles, though this might be harder to do with some Episcopalians than others.

I've said it before, I'll say it again: Imagine two friends sitting on a couch. They're watching a DVD, maybe it's the Incredibles. They have a snack on the cushion between them: bright red box, little yellow crackers. At the same time, they both reach in. Their hands touch. There is a frisson, a shiver, a moment of unexpected connection.

That's Christianity. God is in the Cheez-itz. The most sacred space of all.

1 comment:

brd said...

This is very interesting commentary. Thanks.