Fleming Rutledge is a preacher and teacher known throughout the mainline Protestant denominations of the US, Canada and parts of the UK. She is the author of seven books and has received a grant from the Louisville Foundation to complete a book about the meaning of the Crucifixion.
One of the first women to be ordained to the priesthood of the Episcopal Church, she served for fourteen years on the clergy staff at Grace Church on Lower Broadway at Tenth Street, New York City.
Fleming and her husband celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2009 and have two daughters and two grandchildren. She is a native of Franklin, Virginia.
What is generous orthodoxy? A statement of purpose
The word ortho-doxy (Greek for "right doctrine") has both positive and negative connotations. In a culture that prizes what is iconoclastic and transgressive, orthodoxy has come to sound constricted and unimaginative at best, oppressive and tyrannical at worst.
The position taken on this website is that we cannot do without orthodoxy, for everything else must be tested against it, but that orthodox (traditional, classical) Christian faith should by definition always be generous as our God is generous; lavish in his creation, binding himself in an unconditional covenant, revealing himself in the calling of a people, self-sacrificing in the death of his Son, prodigal in the gifts of the Spirit, justifying the ungodly and indeed, offending the "righteous" by the indiscriminate nature of his favor. True Christian orthodoxy therefore cannot be narrow, pinched, or defensive but always spacious, adventurous and unafraid.
Posted: Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Fleming Rutledge has been named Preacher-in-Residence at Trinity Cathedral in Columbia, SC. This will involve two visits each in 2014 and 2015 for a total of four visits. Her first residence will be in Lent this year (March 26-April 2), and her second will be in the pre-Advent season in November (dates to be announced).
In favor of the body
Friday, March 7, 2014Today I went to another funeral (this seems to be one of my favorite subjects). It was extremely moving. I want to say a bit about it without intruding on the memory of a faithful Christian.
There were only a handful of people present, because the deceased woman had been homebound for a long time and many people who had known her had moved away. However, the service was conducted with as much dignity and attention to detail as if the service had been for a young person with hundreds of mourners. The organist played Bach with great feeling as if there had been a large congregation. The only speaker was the clergyman, and (like the funeral I wrote about in a previous post) he managed to combine the gospel message with a vivid and loving evocation of the person herself. He told us some things that perhaps we did not all know; she kept in close touch with events in the congregation and continued to follow the liturgical year. He told us that the four-foot baptismal candle, burning nearby, had been given by her some years before, in memory of her parents. I thought about that, and how these memorials come to mean more and more to us as we grow older and begin to think about what is really important.
Even though the congregation was tiny, we sang "Ye holy angels bright" at the conclusion of the service. What wonderful words! I was particularly moved by this because the first time I ever sang that hymn was at the funeral of my great-aunt, when I was in my late 20s. I had never heard it before that occasion. As we sang today, I was really quite taken aback by the depth of my feelings about this link to my great-aunt. She was an amusing, lively little old lady and I was very fond of her, but she was an incorrigible snob (typical Virginian!) and utterly indifferent to the plight of the black people back in the 60s. The thing about her that remains with me is her strong Christian faith and her determination that faith should be the significant defining trait of our family. To this end she gave a wall plaque to Christ Church, Charlottesville, listing our ancestors, and at the bottom the words, "These kept the faith." I think that's why I found myself so moved to be singing "her" hymn in another funeral setting many decades later. All of us must come, in the end, as sinners to dust and ashes, yet justified by grace, through faith.
At the service today, it was particularly striking that the body was present at the church. This is so rare now, unfortunately. The coffin was covered with the brocade church pall, and rested at the head of the aisle where we all passed it going and coming from communion. The clergyman said the beautiful prayer of commendation over it, as is intended by the liturgy. The woman who had died was not particularly old (younger than me, anyway), but over the years she had lost much of her bodily functioning and was somewhat misshapen. It was deeply significant that her body should have been present as we confessed "the resurrection of the body." Bodily life matters. It is the only life that we know in this world. The promise of the gospel is that "we shall be raised incorruptible" in a body still recognizable as ours. How this can be, St. Paul could not say--though he made a stab at it in I Corinthians 15--but that we will be raised as our bodily selves he was certain, as the Holy Spirit gave him utterance. "The trumpet shall sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed." We shall be changed "into His likeness."
May the God who raised Jesus from the dead raise us also with Jesus and bring us all together into his presence. (II Corinthians 4:14) The saying is sure.
Empathy and literary fiction
Thursday, March 6, 2014All of a sudden there are numerous articles concerning recent studies about the relationship between the cultivation of empathy and the reading of literary fiction. Sociological/psychological "studies" always carry with them a faint whiff of spuriousness, since their findings simply can't be measured in the same manner as studies in the hard sciences. Nevertheless, some of them are suggestive, and this one particularly so, for lovers of literature first of all, but also for anyone concerned about what has been widely identified as a diminution of empathy among the privileged classes today. The findings suggest that readers of literary fiction perform better on tests of empathy than people who read only non-fiction.
Literary fiction, as opposed to nonfiction and "popular" mass-market fiction, offers extra dimensions of penetration into the human interior. Gifted writers are able to portray complex characters from the inside out, with all their inner conflicts that never surface for the world to see and, indeed, are little understood even by their closest family members. I am finally getting around to reading (very slowly) the canonical, multi-volume In Search of Lost Time by Proust, arguably the most psychologically acute novel ever written, almost certainly the most thoroughgoing -- while at the same time mysterious and poetic -- portrait of the inner life to be found anywhere. But these thoughts have been prompted by a small novel, a short easy read. Along with Proust I am reading less demanding books, and the one that elicited this posting is a recently published novel called The Exiles Return by Elisabeth de Waal. I read an interesting review of it in The New York Times and immediately bought it at my local, beloved indie bookstore. I found myself swept up into the character of a middle-aged Jewish professor who returns to Vienna after the war (WW2) and finds himself bewildered by the changes. Entering into the conscious, subconscious, and unconscious mind of a person such as that, utterly unlike myself, placed into circumstances unknown to me, was such a privilege. Non-fiction simply can't do that.
The often-noted fact that great movies cannot be made from great books can be accounted for along these lines. The book can tell you precisely what a character is feeling and thinking, whereas even the greatest actors can only suggest. I think The Exiles Return might make a pretty good movie, actually, but it can't do what the book does. A movie can show the character Kanakis, a member of Vienna's small but significant prewar Greek community, returning after the war. It can suggest his dismay at the damage to his city. It can show him going into a confectioner's shop and buying a whole tray of pastries, but it can't tell you why this rejuvenates him. It might try, by inventing a few sentences of dialogue, but it couldn't possibly tell you what the purchase meant to his psyche, nor could it summon up prewar Vienna in the way that the novel does in one paragraph.
I don't know what is to be done about the fact that people read less and less. A few parents that I know have accomplished wonders with their children by filling their houses with books and strictly limiting the use of electronic devices until the preteen years. I have met a few home-schooled children who are voracious readers. But on the whole, the overwhelming presence of social media has overwhelmed the importance of reflection and the development of the mind and spirit. If it is true that reading literary fiction helps to develop empathy, might it not be a Christian imperative to rethink the whole matter of reading habits?
The Exiles Return is a very worthwhile novel, though by no means as revelatory as another book with a somewhat similar backstory, Irène Némirovsky's Suite Française. Both were discovered long after the author's deaths, though Némirovsky's was written in far more harrowing circumstances. Both women were highly educated, upper-class, assimilated Jews, though de Waal escaped the fate of Némirovsky. Readers will be interested to know that her grandson, Edmund de Waal, wrote the well-regarded The Hare with Amber Eyes.
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Arguments for and against God?
Wednesday, February 26, 2014We might as well get ready for an exponential increase in aggressive atheism. I didn't pay any attention to it for a long time but it has now become an entrenched cultural trend, particularly among young people who are always attracted to whatever is cool at the moment. A "most emailed" interview posted yesterday on The New York Times Opinionator puts forward some of the basic "Arguments Against God."
I have never been drawn to apologetics--trying to offer rational arguments for Christian faith. The gospel was spread by telling the story of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God and Messiah of Israel, who died and was raised for the salvation of the world. "Come and see," is our motto. Arguments for and against God (whoever "God" is) have nothing to do with it. At no time does the Bible put forth arguments for the existence of God; in fact, it is laughable to think so, when one recognizes that the world of the Bible is "a strange new world" (Barth) which speaks of a God who lives, acts, judges, promises, delivers, and creates out of nothing. God is so far beyond our conceptions of what a god should be like that we cannot invent him. The Old Testament bears witness to an elusive presence (viz. Samuel Terrien's book by that name) that comes and goes at the divine will, never to be captured in a tabernacle or temple, let alone philosophical arguments.
Andy Crouch, editor at Christianity Today, recently reported that he had visited a church school where he met with a self-selected group of students who were interested in learning more about the faith. He discovered to his dismay that none of them knew even the most famous parables of Jesus, or the stories of his deeds or of his exchanges with people. Will Willimon has repeatedly said that biblical ignorance, and ignorance of the basic content of our faith, is the biggest problem facing the church today. It is a waste of time trying to convince people of the existence of "God," whoever that is. It is in the face of the Lord Jesus that we see God. Unless we introduce people to Jesus, our"arguments" are worthless. We have a story to tell. The shape of this story is not so much the story of "how I met Jesus." It is the story of who he was and what he did. If you can get hold of Theodore Ferris' little paperback What Jesus Did, it will give you the idea of how one famous preacher introduced the Lord to thousands of hearers at Trinity in Boston. And you can get all the sermons of Charles Spurgeon on line. Reading these preachers, with their passion and biblical knowledge, puts "arguments against God" to shame.
Not everyone is called to faith. There is a mystery about that. Our Lord himself, and his apostle Paul, grieved over those who rejected the gospel. But that is in the hands of our Creator. Our business, whether we are preachers or not, is to bear witness to the One whom we have met, who is alive, and whom we know to be able to save according to his promises, for "there is no other God who can deliver in this way" (Daniel 3:29).
PS. I don't know why the link is not "hot." You will have to cut and paste. (I am not sure it's worth the trouble.)