Carioca: Anyone born in the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Confess: to acknowledge one's belief or faith in; declare adherence to, to reveal by circumstances.
Friday, January 24, 2014
I am an unrepentant kyrialist.
Yes, that’s pretty much a made-up word. It is not therefore insignificant, however. Quite the opposite.
A case can be made that the earliest Christian creed consisted of just two Greek words, Kyrios Iesus, which works out to three words in English: Jesus is Lord. The expression Kyrie eleison—Lord, have mercy—is one of the oldest bits of Christian liturgy we have. As the tradition of Christian worship developed on the Latin end of the decaying Roman Empire, it became formulaically customary to conclude most any prayer with per Dominum Jesum Christum—through Jesus Christ our Lord—before the Amen.
The word ‘Lord’ is so ubiquitous in Christian devotion and worship, and so rare in ordinary speech (at least, for English speakers outside the UK, where it continues to have some parlance), that it’s taken on the aspect of jargon, a bit of technical vocabulary with very little to connect it with anything outside what has come to be perceived as its native environment. When Christians began using the term, however, the opposite pertained. Everyone had a lord and everyone knew who their lord was. Even the lords had lords. There was a hierarchy of fealty that ran from the lowest rungs of society (slaves) to the highest (the emperor).
So when Christians started announcing that “Jesus is Lord”—indeed, the Lord of lords--they weren’t just indulging in insider religion-speak. They were making a highly political statement, something not only very profound in a theological way, but dangerously seditious. It was seen as a zero-sum game: If ‘X’ is “Lord," then’Y’ is “not Lord.” If X=Jesus, then Y=somebody else who already claims lordship. Ultimately, that somebody else was Caesar. Is it any wonder the first several generations of Christians were persecuted, and a great many put to death?
So, while “Lord” suffers from over-familiarity, it is central to the confession of the historic Christian and Catholic faith. It is central to the vows and promises we make at Baptism and Confirmation (including, for Episcopalians, the much-vaunted Baptismal Covenant).
In recent years, the notion of the Lordship of Christ is once again under attack, only this time from within the Christian community. Some, operating from a feminist perspective, have come to regard it as an emblem of patriarchal oppression, since the word inherently carries heavy masculine baggage. For them, it signifies more than itself; it points to an elaborate apparatus of male hegemony (one is tempted to say “domination,” but that is precisely the point at issue) in the Church, marginalizing and infantilizing half the human population, handicapping the gifts that women bring to the life of the Body of Christ. So there is pressure to, if not completely remove, at least drastically reduce the use of the word “Lord” in liturgical texts. In the Episcopal Church, the present edition of the Book of Common Prayer and the original edition of Lesser Feasts & Fasts came to life just early enough to escape this movement. But anything published since the mid-1980s—The Book of Occasional Services, all the Enriching Our Worship materials, and the proposedHoly Woman, Holy Men, reflects the trend of “de-kyrializing” the liturgy. “Lord” is consistently and nearly universally avoided (though, it has been done presumptively, stealthily, with no direct conversation over the issue).
I invite those who find kyrial language (no more quotes; it’s officially a word now after three uses) offensive to demonstrate any concrete damage it is alleged to have done. I further invite them to weigh that alleged damage against the weight of the Tradition—in scripture, in liturgy, in theology, and in devotion. Yes, I will acknowledge the possibility that certain persons—mostly women, in all likelihood—who have had particular life experiences that are unfortunate, even tragic, but, to the benefit of all, quite rare, may not be helped by associating any notion of God with the word “Lord.” But, I would submit that this is not sufficient grounds upon which to overthrow two millennia (more if you count the Old Testament as it has been mediated to us via Greek and Latin) of tradition.
Liturgy drives theology—or so goes the contemporary wisdom. If we de-kyrialize our worship, we may not be saying right away that “Jesus is not Lord.” Not right away. But we will be opening the door to such a move by the next generation. As our society rapidly secularizes, Christians will need more ways, not fewer, by which to demarcate their identity over against the “Caesars” of consumerism,. nationalism, hedonism, and all the other false gods that demand just a harmless pinch of incense at their altar. Rather than laying aside the notion that Jesus is Lord, we would do better to double down on it, to explain it in ways that don’t cause unnecessary trauma to anyone’s psyche, and enable the baptized faithful to be more clearly and confidently who they are—the redeemed of God, the harbingers of the Kingdom of Heaven.