Thursday, July 8, 2010

Four reasons why Holy Women, Holy Men bugs the heck out of me

I mentioned a couple of days ago that my reaction after a year of looking at the new people added to the Episcopal Church calendar was, by and large, "bleah." The complete list of recognized people, along with collects of the day (no last names and all), and recommended readings has been compiled into a book called Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (hereafter HWHM).

Yesterday, I received a press release from Church Publishing, announcing that "a formal, quantitative [online] survey will be available for users of the new resource to record their impressions of this expanded collection of commemorations. The survey... is designed to be used on a daily or frequent basis. Survey participants can comment on every collect and chosen scripture passage for each commemoration in the entire 800-page publication."

You can bet I will be a frequent contributor. And if you're as obsessed and peculiar as I am, I hope you will contribute too.

I had some initial reactions to the new proposed calendar a year ago before I had a chance to explore it. My worry was that we were "claiming people for our calendar to make us feel better about ourselves." I don't think that was a bad first call. But there are some other things that have become disturbing to me over the year.

1) It seems that "saint" has come to mean "people who did good things" Take, for example, William W. Mayo, Charles Menninger and their sons: Pioneers in Medicine. No doubt worthy of remembrance. I don't argue against that. But what does it actually mean to be a saint? Does it have something to do with the church at all? I'm not saying that every saint has to be doing churchy things. Just that many of these feasts seem based primarily on their historical importance or contribution rather than their witness of faith.

2) A number of those remembered were just doing what was normal for the time in which they lived One which stood out for me in this regard was the Pioneers of the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil. "In 1890, Lucien Lee Kinsolving and James Watson Morris were sent as Episcopal missionaries to Brazil. The following year, they were joined by three other American missionaries. [They] are now celebrated as the founders of the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil." Well, whoopididoo. Were they loving? Did they show any special grace? Given the history of missionary work, I need something a little more than this.

3) A number of those remembered would hate to be considered a saint Poor John Calvin. I have trouble recognizing as a saint those who would object to the notion of sainthood. It seems to offend the very people we want to honor.

4) It's so damn trendy This is just my personal feeling, and it's a tough call. But one of the things I appreciated about the commemoration of Jan Hus is that time shows his extraordinary faith in much sharper relief. There's nothing trendy about it. I worry that some of those included are simply there due to trends in faith: multiculturalism, inclusion of women and minorities--not that there's anything wrong with any of those things. It just seems to be done indiscriminately. Were you decent to Indians? You're in!

The upshot is, I don't think we gave enough thought to what we mean when we say someone is a saint. I'm not sure I can define it. I can tell you, though, that what we have now just doesn't sit right with me.

I welcome your thoughts and feedback and will continue to ponder this question myself.


Anonymous said...

I chose Hus today for a week-day Eucharist; his witness had a profound impact on the congregation, and they expressed gratitude for the lesson of his example. (I don't normally pray at the end of a homily, but we ended with the Prayer for Our Enemies).

I wish all the entries were as meaningful in their witness and proclamation of the Good News in Christ. Sigh. I don't recall Jesus saying his yoke was facile...

it's margaret said...

Dang --I love you!

songs of a soul journey said...

I am right with you. There is a trend of political correctness that ultimately arises from a collective sense of guilt. The guilt may be authentic, but the raising of everyone and their grandparents to sainthood is one of those crazy tendencies that points less to the merits of those so honored than to the fact that we daily engage in the sin of not honoring neighbor as self. The cult of saints is one of those Roman things I thought Episcopalians moved beyond.

LKT said...

You know what I realized this morning? We're making saints in our own image. I think we want them to fit into our current image of enlightenment and select them to match. I suspect we have more to learn. These are, perhaps, the Harvest Gold of the saints. Nothing wrong with them, but they will come to seem quite dated in future years.

Anonymous said...

HWHM may be the Harvest Gold refrigerator of the Episcopal Church, or perhaps the more contemporary Sage Green - but whether this is progress or regress will likely depend on what color you think the original LFF was. Tasteful beige? Faded Victorian burgundy? A nice Medieval jewel tone?

What I'm wondering, in other words, to move from the metaphorical to the more concrete, is whether The Infusion is arguing that LFF should have stayed as it was, in which case any revision would have been bad by definition, or whether the Infusion is arguing that LFF wanted some improving but believes that HWLW does not improve LFF in the right way.

If the first, what makes LFF the model compilation that it is in your view? or if the second, what kinds of improvements would you find more appropriate than the ones that HWLW provides?

These are thorny questions, I know - so thank you in advance for answering them!

Anonymous said...

ps - on the cult of saints and whether or not Episcopalians are beyond them, I imagine it depends on which parish they have picked for worship and where it stands on the high/low spectrum. In my experience over the past thirty years or so, the Episcopal church is Protestant compared to the Catholic church or the Orthodox churches, and Catholic compared to the Protestant churches - and this combination, when it works, is one of my favorite things about it!

revlauriebrock said...

While some of the additions are quite good, others are an affront to the saints themselves, particularly those who eschewed the idea of saints (Baptists, for example).

LKT said...

I think DSM's comments go far in addressing the questions Anonymous raises.

For me the problem is not that LFF (Lesser Feasts and Fasts) did or didn't need revising; it's that we added a HUGE batch of people to our calendar all at once. By doing so many at once, it doesn't give the Church as a whole time to absorb and consider each individual addition with as much care as I think should be given.

Previously (or so is my impression), General Convention added a few people at a time which allowed some savoring of each new addition and some serious consideration of each one. Adding such a huge batch (how many was it exactly?--ah, here we are: 112) overwhelms the saint-absorbing system and practically guarantees a glut of Harvest Gold saints. Or, if we're talking modern design, granite countertop saints.

The thing about LFF pre-GC 2009 is that it was a compilation over many years so it didn't look totally dated--at least to me. It had a hodge-podge of the best saintly trends of every period which made it a fascinating wander with a wide variety of calls to sainthood. With HWHM suddenly you've got about a third+ of the additions from circa 2000. It just unbalances the feel. When the trends in sainthood turn again (as they will), I suspect HWHM will grate heavily on the Church's collective nerves.

Absolutely nothing wrong with Harvest Gold or granite countertops. But they may not wear well as a classic look. I strongly suspect we will look back at these additions and say, "Oh, those are so 2009" with a bit of a sniff for our erstwhile taste and lose the best parts of our current understanding of sainthood in the process.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, DSM and LKT, that all makes much more sense to me now!