Two scans, some photo stitching, and about an hour of airbrushing later, it’s done.
The above image is the 10.5″ x 14″ cover of one of my precious rare finds: a December 26, 1955 special issue of LIFE magazine on Christianity in America. A truly fascinating read. Though my copy is a bit worn, it’s still in great shape, all things considered. I’m not one for nostalgism— and I couldn’t be even if I tried, having been born in the eighties— but I still cannot help but feel a profound sense of loss and sadness as I turn its pages and behold… a veritable plethora of ads of smiling women doing laundry! Not only that, but the whole issue testifies to a deep respect for the Church as an institution and for the Christian faith generally.
Was it all a sham? A false, bourgeois commoditization of the Faith? Vain syncretism? I’m sure there’s plenty of that mixed in. Time was when I would likely have rolled my eyes and laughed as I perused such a thing, such thoughts crowding out my instinctual sympathy, because, after all, His Kingdom is “not of this world” and Constantinianism is the enemy of genuine Christianity (yes, color me shades of Kierkegaard’s Attack Against Christendom and Hauerwas’s Resident Aliens, at least undergraduate me). I just can’t get my eyes to roll like that anymore, though, for one reason or another… one that Reason does not know, amirite? BAM! Pascal. I’m on a roll.
Is this a fault? Have I caved? Have I become a ROFTer? (“No” to the last, or at least “Only very selectively and occasionally”— I still can’t stand their high-church social gospelism.) Well, I don’t think I’ve “caved”, but no man can stand as judge in his own trial. Still, I think it’s possible for one to recognize that our little systems have their day, that the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and that things fall apart (the center being unable to hold, with the result that mere anarchy is loosed upon the world), and still lament it as it’s happening.
If one cannot…? If you cannot, if I cannot, have we not become some species of gnostic? The certainty of death and the hope of glory do not make us despise our bodies and lives or rejoice when we see them failing— not any sane person, that is. The analogy from individual to society (nation, community, culture, tribe— pick your collective) is not one-to-one, that is most certainly true. So what? It is indeed foolhardy to think that a society in which a priest on the street gets a smile and a “Good-day, Father” and the Salvation Army soup-kitchen is well stocked has for these reasons “got it made”— this is true. The seven deadly sins poach when they cannot hunt legally, and their pickings are never slim. The Church and Her members can and do grow dumb, fat, and happy in such an environment. But the society in which priests are spat-upon and cursed and the unwanted are not only not fed, but aborted in the womb, is not therefore an automatic boon for the Church. It heralds a certain “ripe time”, a certain kairos which may fructify in true witness to God and to the Lamb, but it doesn’t guarantee anything. Or does it? It seems to me that the only things certain are death and churches losing their tax-exempt status.
I don’t know, guys. Here’s sort of where I land these days: the Hauerwasian triumphalism of the hipster Christian— an interconfessional species just as likely to be found genuflecting in a cathedral as playing djembe in a “small group”— who approvingly watches public institutions implode under the weight of accumulated decadence is just as much of a folly as Constantinian triumphalism which espies God’s New Israel in the offing whenever the magistrate enforces the rudiments of the Decalogue in the laws of the land. It’s really hard to be neither, but it’s weirdly easy to be one, then the other, either in the order listed or in the reverse. “Trust not in this prince, but, man… have you seen Rand Paul’s platform?” Maybe we’re supposed to alternate. Again, I just don’t know.
I do know, however, that there’s no going back to the days of Festschriften for the Christian Church running as special issues of LIFE magazine. In and of itself, this is neither a good thing nor a bad thing. It is, however, a thing. And the thing about a thing is that it is what it is. There’s definitely a there there, and I think we need to be honest about that. If there’s an answer, it definitely isn’t pat…
Sorry, those last four sentences were gibberish. There, where you were expecting an ending, there wasn’t one. Just an otiose, satirical gesture indicating how some of us (take me, for example) lack the ability to express our sense of anomie and foreboding in a way that is at once intelligible, grammatical, logical, and rhetorical. This is why some of us lop off a few of those characteristics and write mediocre poetry. Some do one better, discard all four, and simply pray to the Triune God in groans that words cannot express.
I need to pray more.