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I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Missional Week in Review, Roman Catholic edition

This past Friday, (August 31, 2012), Carlos Cardinal Maria Martini died at age 85. He is the last of my favorite Roman Catholic theologians of the previous generation to die. And the central figure in one of the strangest dreams I've ever had. May he rest in peace.

I have many theologians from the Roman Catholic tradition who have taught me much. Most famously, as with many others, St. Thomas Aquinas has a big influence on me. In some ways all Christians in the West are indebted to Aquinas, although many in my Lutheran tradition have spent much ink trying not to make it so. When you think about God as the last movement in a logical chain of events, or try to discover God from the fabric of reality, you owe a lot to Thomas Aquinas. If you've ever looked at a sunset, a baby, a mountain, a leaf, and thought: "Wow! There has to be a God!" you owe Thomas Aquinas for showing you how you got from that revelation to God.

I spent a good deal of my doctoral work on Karl Rahner. To be honest, I wanted to do a three-part series on my comprehensive exams based on Orthodox, Roman, and Reformation theology, and I had John Zizioulas for orthodoxy, Martin Luther for reformation, and Rahner was the most palatable Roman Catholic I could find. (I toyed with using Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, but I found his philosophical reasoning too trapped in linguistic ambiguity to be of much use. This makes his theology seem rather disengaged from reality, and if you've heard of his stance on condoms in countries decimated by AIDS you know what I mean.) So Rahner became a friend. And a good one at that, although I will flat-out admit that reading 10 pages of Rahner took the same amount of time as reading 200 pages of Luther. But the guy could think about God, faith, Jesus Christ, and everything else in between...even today when I read Convergence Christianity I have titles of Rahner works dancing in my head...like "church of the little flock."

And then there was Martini. (It should be apparent by this name why I first read something by him.) I looked for Cardinal Bourbon, Cardinal Scotch, and Cardinal Beer, but I only found Martini. He was a scholar, but he was also a prelate, and this seemed impressive to me. His introduction to the New Jerome Bible Commentary still makes great sense as a way to read the Bible with a predetermined theological lens. His modertation, his clarity, his compassion for those not sure of their salvation must of made the Archdiocese of Milan, Italy a great place to be a Roman Catholic during his tenure. (Plus, it's MILAN!) And now the dream...

When I was in graduate school Pope John Paul II was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. His time would be coming to an end (not for another 5 years, but still...), and people were beginning to handicap who the next pope would be. I read an article on MSNBC.com that listed about 8 potential candidates to the papacy. Martini was one. (Ironically, Martini himself would retire in 2002 from his Archbishopric due to his Parkinson's.) So that night I dreamt. I dreamed I was in a huge dining room, with a large oaken table that seated 20 people to a side. The room was lavish with red draperies, oaken trim, golden candelabras, and a huge roaring fire behind the person seated at the head of the table. As I entered the room, I was invited to sit and eat. I kept walking toward the other diner, gowned in a gold-trimmed chausable, and wearing a neatly clipped mitre, and I kept expecting to be told to stop. I never was. I was allowed to sit right next to my host. He never said a word. He smiled. It was Carlos Cardinal Maria Martini. As I sat down and reached for my napkin, he touched my hand, he poured me some wine...and I woke up.

As I got to my office that morning I related this story to my wonderful secretary Linda DeVries. I told her the dream, and also that if Martini is elected Pope that I should get some kind of canonical status too for that dream. Obviously, he was not elected Pope, but the dream is still alive, and it still has an impact...

You see, Prairie "Table" is all about eating together, about being together with people who are not like yourself. People who believe different things, people who act differently, people who vote differently...but all people eat. All people like to be smiled at...all people want to be respected. All people are children of God. Martini seemed to understand that...I wish I could have had a chance to meet him IRL.

May your tables be full, and your conversations be true.

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