This is the cover story for Newsweek on the stands right now. Obviously, it's meant to snap, crackle and pop just in time for Easter.
At every Easter and Christmas, we should expect a treat.
This article of Sullivan's reminds me of the old cliche that Tony Campolo and several old wannabe rock stars (e.g., Larry Norman, Steve Taylor, Rez Band) from the CCM circuit used to round out their stage acts with: "Just follow Jesus," they'd say, simplifying Christianity by swooping away the religious table all those historic complications of institution, "man-made" regulations, church politics, national politics, and other gizmo's accumulated over the centuries.
Just follow Jesus. Now Andrew Sullivan is saying it, because he is tired of the right wing having invaded pulpits and now, even, liturgical vestments. He's tired, too, of heresies like the health-and-wealth movement and clergy abuse monstrosities.
His solution? Follow Thomas Jefferson in cutting the Gospels down to a minimum. Follow Gandhi in perceiving Jesus as a prophet of simplicity and peace. Reduce Christianity into simplicities.
I'm tired, too. I'm tired of the megachurch, which I think is about as bad as secularism for the damage being done to the Church. I'm tired of clergy hunger games and political machinations that take place in places I don't think they belong. I'm tired of Senator Sarbanes getting Orthodox awards on one hand, and Tea Party speech seeping into clerical diatribes on the other. I'm tired of wealth protection that sacrifices the poor and the weak to Molech everyday. I'm tired of beauty trampled, and language falling away, constantly, from eternity.
So Sullivan's idea has long appealed to me, even before Sullivan. There is much attraction to the reductionist project.
But institutionalism is part of our nature, even our prelapsarian nature. It is an indication of the City that is deeply embedded in our soul. We attempted the Tower once, on the plains of Shinar -- but that, too, was an answer, errant as it turned out to be, to a deep urge, created by the Creator, a part of "eternity in our souls."
Institutions can not be gotten rid of without making the way for others: and in this day and age, when one sweeps away an old institution, a worse, more devilish one takes its place.
Get rid of devil once, the "simple" Jesus said, and he'll grab seven more of his buddies to come back to the nice, clean swept-out place and set up an even bigger party.
And history -- our memory of our hike through the ages -- is full of souvenirs, concrete particularities that carry the marks of the Fall.
Sullivan (and, it must be confessed, my own wont to stray) reveals the sad and ironic history of the wish for simplicity. "Follow Jesus," the wish says, "but leave the Church and its complications, its hard doctrine and its sinful cast and crew, behind."
Really? Jefferson's idea of simplicity excluded the miraculous, because miracles are rather complicated. Gandhi's idea of simplicity excluded -- get this -- the exclusivity of Jesus' claims: you know, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no man cometh unto the Father except through Me."
"I and the Father" -- and no other man -- "are One."
It takes an institution -- or rather, the institutional manifestation of the True City, the Body of Christ -- to come up with words like "consubstantiality," "hypostasis," "union without confusion."
These are hard words. Christianity, like it or not, is complicated. And in this vale of sorrows, it cannot escape the contours and rhetoric of institutionality. God is certainly not limited by these contours, but we are.
So Andrew Sullivan has written nothing new. And some people will, every year, throw away their institutional membership cards out of frustration and despair. They will try to keep their "simple" Jesus.
But He, as Him, will not stay that way. Stumbling stones simply cannot.
It is better, on this Western Good Friday, to keep a simple silence, and to bear up under one's Cross.