Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Mary Magdalene and Redemption Songs

Wallace H. Hartley sent this Bob Marley song for me to ponder.
Old pirates, yes, they rob i;
Sold I to the merchant ships,
Minutes after they took i
From the bottomless pit.
But my hand was made strong
By the and of the almighty.
We forward in this generation
Wont you help to sing
These songs of freedom? -
cause all I ever have:
Redemption songs;
Redemption songs.

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery;
None but ourselves can free our minds.
Have no fear for atomic energy,
cause none of them can stop the time.
How long shall they kill our prophets,
While we stand aside and look? ooh!
Some say its just a part of it:
Weve got to fulfil de book.

Wont you help to sing
These songs of freedom? -
cause all I ever have:
Redemption songs;
Redemption songs;
Redemption songs.
Today is the day we remember Mary Magdalene. The Satucket article (linked here) puts her in a more favorable light than earlier generations may have seen her. The Catholic Encyclopedia has a different take,
"It is impossible to demonstrate the identity of the three; but those commentators undoubtedly go too far who assert, as does Westcott (on John 11:1), "that the identity of Mary with Mary Magdalene is a mere conjecture supported by no direct evidence, and opposed to the general tenour of the gospels." It is the identification of Mary of Bethany with the "sinner" of Luke 7:37, which is most combatted by Protestants. It almost seems as if this reluctance to identify the "sinner" with the sister of Martha were due to a failure to grasp the full significance of the forgiveness of sin. The harmonizing tendencies of so many modern critics, too, are responsible for much of the existing confusion."
The old way of thinking of her as a prostitute or adulteress also worked and used to help me when thinking of the redeeming power of Christ. Thinking about how Mary has been "redeemed" along with recent events in the life of the Anglican Church drew me to the question of what to do with the redeemed, particularly when they are called to become priests and we choose to overlook or rewrite the past.

The story related by the Ugley Vicar in his post "Should I Be Worried?" came up in the past week. In the story, a vicar who had in the past admitted to having sex with a 16 year old, and who had several other allegations in his past, was in 2008 appointed area Dean of an undisclosed area of the Church of England. The Bishop cited
"praised Mr - as a “first-class” priest. He is able to offer very strong support to other clergy and parishes."

The next case was reported from the San Francisco Chronicle ("Episcopal Church Under Fire for Parolee Priest").
"James Tramel went from convicted murderer to priest while in prison, a transformation that the Episcopal Church used to successfully lobby for his parole and celebrate him before politicians and the press.
But the church is now grappling with the sexual abuse of a parishioner under his care. Tramel has been suspended for sexual misconduct, temporarily stripped of his priestly authority and left searching for a new job...Convicted of second-degree murder in a 1985 slaying, Tramel went to seminary and was ordained a priest while incarcerated in a state prison in Solano County. After he was paroled early in 2006, at the urging of the Episcopal bishop of California, Tramel was quickly placed at the helm of the historic Trinity Episcopal Church in San Francisco...And when Tramel was released, (Bishop) Swing referred to Tramel's transformation as proof of the resurrecting power of Jesus Christ.

Tramel's parole in March 2006 was bitterly fought by Edward Stephenson, 79, the father of the murder victim. He's not surprised that Tramel is accused of taking advantage of a vulnerable parishioner after being paroled.

'He's a manipulator,' Stephenson said.

'The church wanted to show that he was a real good guy,' Stephenson said.

There is more to the Tramel story. He apparently had married the seminary student who was assigned to visit him in prison.

So many red flags...

Back on June 20, 2008 Lowell and I had an interesting exchange on his blog, which I have edited for the purposes of today's thoughts.
"...What do you do about forgiving seventy times seven? What do you do about the charge to love your neighbor as yourself, to love as God has loved?"

"Today's readings are a good example of how we can gain insight from piecing together disconnected Bible passages despite the inherent dangers of such an approach.
Jesus warns us not to be like the harsh slave in the parable, while Paul reminds us that we are all sinners, leaving me with the uncomfortable feeling that we sinners need to keep our mouths shut when we see something 'wrong.'
What do you do then when the unrepentant sinner is dishing out the communion wafer? Paul points out that all are sinners. Therefore, we will always be getting the sacraments from the hands of sinners.
I am afraid in our rush to accept the sinfulness of our leaders, that we have lowered our expectations of them.
'What do you do about forgiving seventy times seven, you ask?' What do you do when that person is not asking for forgiveness, but rather is asking for 'acceptance' because they deny the sin? Paul again straightens us out and reminds us that no one of us is above sin. I take that in mind when ever someone denies the sinfulness of their favorite human behavior.
'What do you do about the charge to love your neighbor as yourself, to love as God has loved,' you ask? I have to humble myself and beg forgiveness as I acknowledge my sins. I pray that true repentance will follow and my life will change. I have to pray that the Lord will forgive seventy times seven for I am lowly and born to sin, and as such will probably use up every one of those seventy times seven."

6:59 AM

Now, the current cases of the unnamed vicar, and Fr. Tramel relate more to people who do not deny their sinful past and gain not just acceptance into the body of Christ, but promotion into positions of authority in His Church. The victims may forgive, but we should not forget. While I do not deny the transforming power of redemption, it seems that sometimes we are afraid to pass common sense human judgement on people. Does our religion itself lead us into this problem of judging not lest we be judged, or is more a question of leadership?

Folquet de Marseilles bemoans the corruption of the Church, in a miniature by Giovanni di Paolo, Paradiso, Canto 9 (Wikipedia).


  1. I've struggled in thinking about what to do when those in authority have a "past." Clearly, we are all sinners, redeemed by grace. I believe that when/if we acknowledge our sins and truly repent, then we should be allowed to minister as God would have us to do. After all, Christ refused to cast a stone at the woman caught in adultery, but also dismissed her with the admonition to, "sin no more."

    By the same token, there are those in leadership positions who perhaps refuse to acknowledge the sinfulness of certain behaviors. I think of the worship leader who has divorced and remarried, for example. If we believe the Bible, such behavior constitutes adultery. Clearly, there is no desire to repent. How then can we allow that person to have a position of authority.

    I suppose, I guess that there are some things which should disqualify a person from a leadership role. Otherwise, we begin to confuse grace and forgiveness with our own narcissism.


  2. Thanks W. and R.
    This is another one of those subjects that will, because of our weaknesses, undoubtedly come up again and again. And when I say weaknesses, I mean to include not only sins, but intellectual and spiritual blinders, bad judgement, and bad systems.

  3. Thank you so much for posting this!!!

    In the Tramel, case, I was very sympathetic to his conversion ... until I saw how closely tied it was with his attempts to gain parole (over the objections of the victim's family).

    I do believe in forgiveness of sin. But I don't think religion and legal justice should be mixed as in the Tramel case. It would have made sense to me if he had stayed humbly in prison, devoting his life to pastoral care of prisoners or upon release made his mission the care for the homeless (since he was the instigator of the murder of a homeless man).

  4. Perpetua,
    Do they teach humility in the seminaries anymore?

  5. Well, when confession of sin is optional ...