When I started on the topic of Monday’s Christian, I thought that it would be a catchy title for practical and straightforward Christianity. As time has passed, though, the name has more and more meaning for me. I cannot say how long the week will continue, but as we dive deeper into lent, I find that the time has come to shift gears to some slightly darker aspects of Christianity…
No, I shouldn’t say that. By and large, I want to talk about darker aspects of the world we experience. Christianity does not create them or even accept them; rather, Christianity usually gives us a response. On that note, I hope you’ll bear with me in looking at some aspects of the world that can be more frustrating. And I hope you’ll point out to me when I don’t come around quickly enough to the good news we have in response. Usually I try to lead with the good news, but some things need to be tackled head on, particularly matters of sin and separation from God – chiefly because Christians have made so much of them in the past. With that in mind, let me say a little more about the days of the week as a context for what I hope to cover later.
“Monday’s Christian” has something of a double meaning for me. First, it was a simple statement of Christianity in the workaday world. After the praise, of Sunday, we turn to the hard work of living life in a Christian way. I used it as a challenge to myself to present Christianity in a straightforward, accessible and simple manner. Having just finished CS Lewis’ book The Discarded Image, I find it has a second meaning as well. The book explores the medieval cosmology and I remembered that the Moon was considered the lowest of the Celestial spheres. Of all things perfect (the heavens), the Moon comes closest to Earth. Monday’s Christian was a place for the most practical (down to Earth) aspects of Christianity.
The word “Monday” comes from the Germanic for “Day of the Moon.” Likewise, “Tuesday” comes from a root meaning for “Day of Tiu,” the god of war. Now I don’t subscribe to the Norse religion or pantheon, but it has some very interesting stories that influence the way we look at the world. When I started Tuesday’s Christian, I looked for something that would go beyond the simple Christianity to embrace some of the more challenging and paradoxical aspects of Christian thought. God’s of war are often troublemakers, so this seemed fitting. Tuesday’s Christian embraced the intricacies of living out Christianity in a world that does not always make sense.
I planned to stick with Tuesday, and perhaps I will, but today, I thought more seriously about what I wanted to say and it fits well with the theme of Wednesday. The fourth day of the week has long been a day of fasting for Christians – not as severe as Friday, but a day in the middle of the week to reflect on our humanness and limitation. It’s current name comes from the Norse God Woden, who has had a strong (and perhaps unfortunate) impact on Christianity.
Woden was the head God in the Norse pantheon, associated with wisdom, but also with sacrifice. Variations on a theme show Woden sacrificed for the sake of understanding or for the sake of the world – a theme that resonated with Christians moving north from the Mediterranean during the dark ages. Woden willingly sacrificed himself (to himself) by hanging and became worked into the Germanic theology of Christ on the Cross. This results in a number of hymns (still popular) where Christ “hung on a tree.” It also impacted the Germanic atonement theology – how we understand God’s reconciliation with humanity – in a way that favored substitution, paying a price, and emphasis on the crucifixion as THE central element of the story. [If you read the Bible, the crucifixion does not have such pride of place over the passion and resurrection as it has come to have in Western theology.] I think Anselm of Canterbury and CS Lewis were both profoundly influenced by Woden as well as Christ, which makes me a little nervous.
I plan to bring this ambivalence to my next few posts. Wednesday’s Christian will be about the ways of the world, to which Christianity responds. Sometimes, as in the case of Woden, I think we’ve been too enamored of the ways of the world and tried to reshape the Gospel into a more palatable mythology – something that more closely matches the world we’ve experienced to date. And yet the true Gospel is better than that. The Woden story has been embraced because it reflects our real experience of sacrifice and loss, and yet it also reflects a very worldly notion of acceptable (or at least necessary) cost. The Gospel is a story of free gift – a gift that turns out to be far more terrifying and life altering, but still given without strings (or rope) attached.
We must reclaim the Christian message of life beyond death. Resurrection is worthy of martyrdom, but we must never believe that martyrdom is the price of resurrection. That makes God into a cruel entrepreneur, rather than a loving Father. So let us explore some of the darker side of experience with the understanding that there will always be a deeper and truer level that lets us escape the seemingly inescapable bargain with death.
“And death hath no more dominion.”