Friday, July 10, 2009

Please Let it Be Forgot. Please.

Beating a dead horse? Sure. But we just can't help ourselves.

A friend who should probably remain anonymous recently emailed to us a precis of the recent Seminex reunion. (Seminex, for those who have had better things to bone up on over the years, was the seminary of the AELC). A lot of it was the usual reunion song-and-dance, in this case larded with some unfortunate comparisons of Seminex to Bonhoffer's underground seminary at Finkenwald. (Do you really think -- no matter who you are -- that the comparison will make you look good?)

But it was at the closing worship that things got out of hand. (It has been our experience that closing worship services are often where the crazy auntie gets out of the attic, and compares the Trinity to spumoni, or bursts into tears, or sings a bad song off-key. Or outs herself, for no apparent reason. Perhaps the wizened gnomes who plan such events don't want us to enjoy them so much that distract us from our parishes, and therefore arrange it so that, even after three entirely pleasant days, we will nonetheless drive home scowling and muttering imprecations. But we digress.)

The two preachers -- rarely a good thing, this business of two preachers -- decided to structure their homily around an extended analogy of Seminex to Camelot.

Really? You really want to got there? Camelot?

Okay, okay. We know it's a cliche at this point. Anybody who wants to look back fondly on anything, at least anybody of a certain age, starts murmuring Camelot. The fault belongs largely to Jackie Kennedy, who -- just a week after her husband was assassinated -- requested an interview with semi-official hagiographer Theodore H. White, and talked about her husband's administration, summoning up the now-desperately-tired lyric, "Don't let it be forgot," et cetera. (Of course, we could also blame the other T.H. White for The Sword in the Stone, or Chretien de Troyes for apparently coining the name of the place. But mostly we blame the canny Mrs. K.)

So it's a cliche. So what? Why does it bug us to see it applied to Seminex? Glad you asked.

First, because it is such a vivid example of Boomer self-regard. To compare anything to the legendary court of King Arthur is silly on its face; to compare everything to it -- as they very nearly do -- is annoying to the rest of us, who don't think quite so highly of Boomerdom's various bragging points. (Students for a Non-Violent Society? Actually kind of violent at the end. Microsoft? Actually a near-monopoly peddling inadequate products. Even the Kennedy Administration itself, and its enduring PR machine, spent decades lying about the Cuban Missile Crisis -- embarrassed to admit that its hero actually [gasp!] negotiated a settlement.)

And second, because -- and we're being delicate here -- Seminex was no Camelot. For the students and professors, it must have seemed that way. It was the great, big, righteous battle of their lives, which largely formed them into the pastors they have become -- all of which helps explain why they so love to talk about it in mythic terms. (In the beginning, they called themselves "Elim," an acronym for Evangelical Lutherans in Mission, but also one of Israel's stops in its desert journey.)

But for the rest of us, there was nothing romantic, and little heroic, about the story. It is a sordid tale, about people wounded by their church but who nonetheless continue to carry forward the worst of its legacy. The Missouri takeover was a nasty business, but it does not necessarily follow that the resistance to it was pure and good. Specifically, as Egg readers are by now desperately tired of hearing, we believe that these wounded souls brought into the ELCA their own tortured psychodrama, including a combination of Missouri's invincible self-righteousness and their own hard-learned experience in the arts of seizing ecclesiastical power.

The LCMS has been, from its origins, an organization devoted to justifying its own existence by self-mythologizing, claiming to be the city on a hill, shining the light of pure doctrine upon the benighted world, the righteous remnant of pure Lutheranism in a world of decadent liberal Protestantism. The AELC was more of the same, a lot more liberal and a hair less Protestant -- but just as prone to self-righteous prattle. And apparently it still is.


Pastor Joelle said...

That's an interesting perspective. The seminex thing happened a few years prior to be going to seminary and we got a lot of their professors at PLTS and I guess I always sort of regarded those folk as heroes. But from what I know of some of them what you say makes some sense, even applied to the best of them.

Father said...

I've had much the same experience, which I attribute to this long LCMS tradition of mythmaking. They seem heroic because they *say* they're heroic, over and over. (We all make myths, of course; they just seem to do it more glibly).

And I do want to be clear: I know some truly splendid Seminex pastors (one or two of them readers of this blog, but I'd say that even if they weren't). My too-frequent rants aren't meant as blanket condemnations extending to every individual. I'm just trying to point out some awkward tendencies in the tribe.